(The 2018 SXSW Film Festival kicked off March 9 and runs all the way through to March 17. Hammer to Nail has a slew of reviews and interviews coming in hot and heavy so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)
Undoubtedly a unique kind of coming of age story, Rukus is a film about refusing to be categorized. In practice, the film itself refuses to be trapped by the polarized definitions of non-fiction and fiction. Instead, Rukus presents cinematic reality as a fluid spectrum. Rather than referring to Rukus as an experimental hybrid of non-fiction and fiction, why not avoid pigeonholing it altogether?
Besides, attempting to differentiate between the documentary, reenactment, and fictional elements of Rukus will just drive you crazy. Does the placement of 8-tracks, cassettes, VHS tapes, black & white tube video cameras, and old computers truly authenticate the footage as “documentary” or are these mere props to make us believe the footage is archival? Without cornering the film’s directors (Brett Hanover, Alanna Stewart, and Katherine Dohan) we will never know for sure.
What is most fascinating about Rukus is how its cinematic style mirrors the fluid sexuality spectrum of its principal cast. (One can only assume this was totally purposeful and not just a happy accident.) For those of you who think of sexuality in very black and white terms (basically “straight” and “queer”), Rukus will either confound you or blow your mind.
I, for one, have often pontificated where Furries fall on the sexuality rainbow (especially after the surreal Furry scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining), but then I chastise myself for trying to put people (or subcultures) into neat little buckets. If I learned anything from Rukus and subsequent research (because, yes, Rukus definitely triggered my curiosity about Furries), it is that even with the Furry subculture there are a multitude of psychological variations. For example, one very prevalent misconception is that the Furry subculture is sexually perverse, but some of them are really just obsessed with fictional anthropomorphic animal characters. There are a lot of people who dress up as fictional characters, but just because this particular subculture dresses up as anthropomorphic animals does not mean that they are into zoophilia or plushophilia.
While Rukus does contemplate the reason behind the titular subject’s suicide in 2008, the directors never find any answers. They try to find clues in Rukus’ words and actions, but it becomes overtly apparent that no one really understood his penchant for wearing white clothes with a straw hat or why he believed he was a god. It is also worth pointing out that Rukus very fittingly describes his sexuality as whatever his mind wants him to be. The only real certainty about Rukus is that he was a graphic novelist working on a philosophically complex “ongoing universal world” propagated with anthropomorphic characters. It is Rukus’ tangential association with Furries that first delivers the filmmakers into that world.
All the while, Rukus also tackles the universal subjects of teenage love and the loss of virginity. Told from Brett Hanover’s perspective, Rukus examines the significance of human contact while considering sexuality and sex. Riddled with OCD, Hanover finds it practically impossible to have a physical relationship, platonic or otherwise. Although Hanover never directly suggests it, his condition seems to increase his fascination with the Furry subculture, since it could provide him with an outlet to enjoy physical contact without it being skin on skin. It is probably not coincidental that Hanover surrounds himself with a network of young people who are actively navigating trauma, mental illness, the rainbow of sexuality, and existence in general. Like most (all) teenagers, none of them are comfortable in their own skin, but they all express their discomfort in different ways.
Although Rukus presents itself as an investigative documentary, it grows increasingly apparent that it is not about providing answers. Instead, Rukus is about the benefits of being inquisitive and adventurous, ridding oneself of definitions and boundaries. Most importantly, Rukus is about avoiding assumptions and stereotypes, because everyone (and every film) exists on a spectrum.
– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)