What happens when a crime reverses the usual sides of the gender divide?
In The Book Of Revelation, the women are the perpetrators and the man is the victim, abducted, sexually abused, and then released. The women wanted to have him because he was beautiful. He re-enters the world profoundly changed, unable to tell anyone what happened to him.
Ana Kokkinos’s film is a dark and dream-like erotic thriller/ psychological mystery in which Daniel (Tom Long), a principal contemporary dancer at the peak of his powers, departs on a strange exile from his stern, exquisite world. He goes out to buy cigarettes one day and doesn’t return for almost two weeks. A brief, stunned re-entrance into his home, his lover and occupation provokes almost total shutdown. He takes off for the docks, leaving his life behind him, assumes a new identity and starts pulling beers for a living.
His after hours are spent making sexual conquests. It’s a private investigation to track down the tatts on his unidentified abusers, the only real clues to their identity.
Then sidling up to the beer taps comes Olsen (Colin Friels), the patiently compassionate cop and ex-husband of Isabel (Greta Scacchi), Daniel’s deserted dance mentor. He’s a police expert on opening up what’s eating Daniel.
With the support of the Olsen-Isabel team and his new girlfriend, Julie (Deborah Mailman), Daniel seems to be healing. But none of them can truly help him until another extreme outburst of violence takes place.
Kokkinos is in home territory exploring the dark side of masculinity, gender, sex and sexuality, as we all remember well from Head On. That film had Alex Dimitriades in Melbourne’s back alleys blowing his mind and his drug-fuelled anatomy for any sense of freewill.
Tom Long may not be playing gay but the sexual activity, both abusive and investigatory, is definitely not flavoured vanilla. Like Head On, The Book Of Revelation wears an R 18+ rating.
Kokkinos is one of the few Australian directors prepared to tackle this kind of material. She’s explicit without being gratuitous. The stylised, ritualised performances still pander, however, to some unsavoury voyeuristic viewing practices.
More problematic is the tendency towards the presentation of BDSM as deviant, criminal behaviour. Abducting and abusing someone is criminal. Role-play, bondage, discipline and sado-masochism are not necessarily. Consent is the key. I’m not convinced the film ever quite manages to signal this.
Like many have before it, The Book Of Revelation tangles BDSM up not only with crime, but also with trauma. Teetering constantly between fantasy and reality, titillation and terror, it’s hard to know where the film, finally, will rest.