Monday, October 10, 2011

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

By s. Monday, October 10, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(122 min, 2006)
Director: Steven Shainberg
Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson, Patricia Bosworth (book)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr. and Ty Burrell 

Those who know us best, leave all too soon. 

Lionel Sweeney will die.
But not before changing Diane Arbus forever.

We meet Diane when she enters nudist colony, then the movie goes back in time – Diane is wealthy, married with kids. Her husband is a photographer and she helps him with trivial things, like fixing models' hair or setting up the lighting, basically being an assistant, whilst ignoring her own talent.

Diane is weird – she likes exposing herself to strangers, she is fascinated by bizarre things, she seems peaceful, but suddenly she bursts into tears. Her husband doesn't understand her, he is fascinated by her, but their relationship is weak – he doesn't see inside of her, but how could he, if Diane has no idea who she really is and what she wants.

And then she meets Lionel, her enigmatic neighbor from upstairs. He makes wigs, his friends are circus performers. And one more thing – he suffers from rare disease which causes abnormal hair growth. Diane is fascinated with him from the first moment she sees him and under the pretext of wanting to take his portrait she enters his house and his world. He is forward, he is interesting, but most of all he is free. He is not living in a cage like Diane is.
As their friendship progresses Diane is spending more time focusing on herself, her work. Lionel helps her in finding her inspiration, in unleashing her personality and eventually in setting her free. He appears to be a bit of a collector – looking for bizarre people and helping them in finding their way. He is too sure of himself when Diane first goes to see him, he knows exactly what to ask her. It's like he knows that type of people inside out, he has experience with them and it brings him joy to influence Diane so much. Without meeting him she would probably live her life trapped, until her death.

But all of that causes Diane to get farther away from her family, where after all she didn't fit in the first place. It always disgusts me to see mother leaving her own kids – I could never understand Sylvia Plath's actions, when she killed herself with her children sleeping in the room next door or Julianne Moore's character in „The Hours”. But here it didn't shock me that much, whilst it is still terrible thing to do.

That is where the ultimate conflict lies – whether to acknowledge the fact we only live once and we only have one life and we should spend it in a way we want to spend it, so that it would bring us as much happiness as it is possible or whether we should honor our responsibilities and do the right thing.

Was Diane's actions courageous? I'm sure there are people who would say that. They were selfish, yes, but in the end she found herself and became a fantastic artist. But she didn't find happiness after all – she committed suicide, barely 48 at the time.

There are beautiful scenes in the film showing the intense connection between those two people – before Lionel dies he breaths air into the mattress and then, after his death, Diane releases it and breaths it. He also makes her a fur of his own hair, as if by wearing it, Diane stepped into his role of free artist, a mentor.
The movie ends when she begins her journey, after Lionel dies, killing himself, by drowning. Arbus's body in reality, was found in the bath tub, after she slit her wrists.

The movie is fictional, I do not know to what degree. I didn't find any record of Lionel actually existing, at least that particular person shown in the movie. But the story shown in the film definitely gives the idea of what must have been going in artist's mind and surroundings, of what inspired her.

The film is beautiful – the cinematography is terrific and the music by Carter Burwell is surprisingly good – very magical and enchanting, to the point I was actually shocked when I found out he was responsible for the soundtrack. There are some outstanding images and scenes in the film – the scene where Diane finds the key Lionel sent her, the dream/memory Diane has during her first visit to his apartment, the love scene and definitely, the shave scene.
Nicole Kidman, for whom I lost any respect after little movie called „Dogville” is perfectly cast and simply great in the role. She is enigmatic, troubled, lost. It is not a superb performance, but she really did a great job. But she perishes from the screen, whatever force her performance has is gone when Robert Downey Jr. is in the scene. What he did in this movie is amazing on so many levels – I cannot even imagine what he must have been going through every day of shooting when it came to make up, or should I say attaching hair to his face and body. That looks incredibly realistic, in the beach scene near the end of the film you can actually see some of it growing back. But what was most incredible is that Diane sacrifices her peaceful life, her kids, her husband and her family for a complete stranger, suffering from disease like that and not only do you absolve her, you understand her. Everything Downey does is fascinating – from the look in his expressive eyes to his incredible, sensual whisper. This is one of his best, there is power and subtlety in this role, and he is one of the few who mix it so well.

This is incredibly unique film – you can treat it like the story of an artist's searching for her way, story of a trapped woman, parallel to Beauty and the Beast or just see it for incredible performances. That film is unlike anything else I've seen.


  1. I can agree with you in every aspect, a truly great and moving film.

  2. It's a damn shame so few people saw this one.

  3. That's true. The film's atmosphere is absolutely unique, I don't know any other film like it. And I'd never imagened that shaving could be so erotic. The scene sent shivers down my spine. Thanks for your great Downey reviews.

    1. Yes, the shaving scene was indeed amazing, I love the piece of sountrack that plays in that scene. The movie reminded me a little bit of The Dreamers in a sense it had very delicate atmosphere and had many erotic moments.

  4. I won't go crazy, but the movie is horribly inaccurate. I know they call it imaginary...but it's more like lazy. The very basic research debunks the majority of what is in this film...but the worst part is the way they portray Arbus, like some scared housewife incapable of a creative thought until love sets her free...garbage. The woman was bold and brilliant from a remarkably young age and her journals, essays, photographs prove that. She knew what she wanted and she went for it. The movie gives her no credit and shows none of her work. That being said...I did enjoy the soundtrack and the film was visually pleasing.

    1. Well, I think the word 'imarinary' in the title is the key. It's not really that she wasn't creative before, but it shows Lionel as her inspiration that gave her the courage. In terms of the movie it works and I don't think anyone wanted to do accurate biopic here. It was more about the film and the story it showed.

  5. I agree with that article. Great/but weird/ movie !
    and yes, +1,the shaving scene is surprinsingly VERY hot !! and Carter Burwell amazed me once more making me travel in the creepiest part of my mind ahah

    1. Thank you! Burwell music was terrific in this one!