The Brown Bunny Review
Ambivalence has engulfed this film; Vincent Gallo’s second feature following his acclaimed black comedy ‘ Buffalo 66’. An incomplete version of the film was screened at Cannes in 2003 and subsequently described by one American critic as ‘the worst film ever made’. The finished version however won the FIPRESCI, the award from the International Federation of Film Critics at the Vienna film festival later that same year.
Now finally available for viewers in the U.K. it is easy to see why the film has garnered such controversy. The visceral visual style, the realistic pacing and minimal dialogue certainly seem to explain the hostile reception.
Gallo plays Bud Clay, a professional motorcyclist who is on his way from a race in New Hampshire to another five days later in California. Embroiled in a personal psychological schism involving the horror of the death of Daisy (Chloe Sevigny), the only woman he has ever loved, he clings frantically to the last vestiges of his sanity, masculine identity and the notion that Daisy’s demise was not his fault. We travel with Bud on an intense, hypnotic journey across the U.S. as he struggles with his conflicting emotions and searches for redemption in an unforgiving American landscape.
The tone of the film is embedded in the visual style. Many of the images are shot from inside Bud’s van, either in close-ups of his distressed face or with shots that peer out of the front windscreen, highlighting Bud’s longing to move on, to escape his memories. The intense close-ups of his face portray the claustrophobic nature of his grief and guilt. The caged brown bunnies that we see both at Daisy’s parents house and in the pet shop that Bud visits, emphasize this notion that Bud is literally caged or trapped by the past. This sense is reinforced continually by these recurring tight shots of him in his van, cocooned and isolated, unable to escape the inevitable decline of his psyche, no matter how far he travels.
This visual style helps to heighten the tension of the fleeting exchanges of intimacy that Bud has on his journey with three equally desperate women. The poignancy of these exchanges and the true core of Bud’s guilt and crisis of masculinity only become apparent at the end of the film in the fantasy sequence in a California hotel in which Bud churns through his emotions with the on-screen appearance of the deceased Daisy. It is here we learn that after seeing Daisy being raped at a party, Bud walks away and leaves her there. On his return she is entering an ambulance having choked to death on her own vomit. Is it his masculine view of the female rape victim as whore that stopped him helping her? Is it this deformed masculine attitude, encapsulated within his relationship with his motorbike, an icon of rebellion and masculinity, which shapes his character and offers him his only nuance of salvation?
It is of course no coincidence that all the women in the film are named after flowers, an encapsulation of the idealised masculine notion of women as symbols of beauty and innocence. The three women Bud meets reflect his failures with Daisy on that fateful night. Bud cannot now separate his sexual feelings from notions of guilt, anger, resentment, yearning and insecurity. This is why we see him masturbate in this last scene, as the truth is revealed.
The Brown Bunny is a subtle, powerful exploration of the complexities of modern male sexuality and a moving portrait of loss and guilt. Not the best film I’ve ever seen, but certainly not the worst.
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