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Sexual Dependency: the split image of globalisation.

Sexual Dependency, the debut film of Bolivian director Rodrigo Bellot, presents the viewer with a series of teenagers whose empty existences are relieved only by bouts of random violence and sex. At first sight, it seems to retrace ground covered by filmmakers such as Larry Clarke, albeit with the sort of energetic visual stylisation typical of recent Latin American cinema. In this case, the hyperactive editing and camera movement are doubled in a relentlessly deployed split screen that offers events from different perspectives in parallel or concurrent footage to complement or counterpoint each other. After a successful run through the festival circuit, the film has largely vanished from sight, although it has been released on DVD. The combination of scattered praise and fleeting distribution followed by definitive neglect--a not uncommon fate for first features--may reflect that the film's content and technique are masterfully developed but superficially familiar, with its raw earnestness sometimes compromised by didactic demonstrations of the obvious. This response overlooks a serendipitous effect of the film's intricate structure, which uses multiple overlapping narratives whose central character also appears in other stories. Straddling Bolivia and the United States, they implicitly relate Western and non-Western experience in an unusually provocative, systematic and non-deterministic way. As much for its faults as for its elegances, which are apparent in equal measure, Sexual Dependency is an instructive case study of the obstacles to achieving artistic representation of globalised society.


Rather than a single picture of contemporary existence from a consistent point of view, Sexual Dependency offers us an array of perspectives which reveal a global process of standardisation at work undermining all pre-existing cultures, Western as much as non-Western. There are two basic dimensions to this process, sexual and economic, which are apparent in all the film's stories. The first three, which are set in Bolivia, explore the commodification of sexual and personal identity driven by conformity to an omnipresent image of the desirable body which is propagated by the mass media and unrelated to the realities of lived experience. They feature a girl from the slums coming of age unwanted while her more desirable friend is virtually date raped, a boy harried by his friends into losing his virginity to a prostitute and, finally, a rich, temperamental caricature macho Latin male preparing to leave to study in the U.S.

A curious feature of these narratives is that they have contemporary Western themes with only a seemingly coincidental setting in Bolivia, a country deeply polarised by intense class and ethnic rivalries between a wealthy, white and increasingly separatist oligarchy dominating the lowlands (including Santa Cruz, where Sexual Dependency is set) and anti-capitalist indigenous communities. It is only once the film moves away from Bolivia, on to its two final stories set in the U.S., that the multiple narrative structure allows us to locate what we have seen in Bolivia as part of a larger whole, though without crudely relating America and Bolivia as cause and effect. This is particularly so given the American stories--depicting the travails of a closeted gay advertising model and a black woman rehearsing a theatre piece--have nothing in common with Bolivia, with the only explicit link--that the macho student from Bolivia is raped by the model's fellow football players--appearing a gratuitous climax to the film. Outside the explicit narrative content, the economic dimension of globalisation gains representation as the film's structure works to retroactively rewrite our understanding of the Bolivian stories in light of the American ones while presenting the West as only one element of the system it propagates, and as much a victim of it as are the countries it dominates.


In this, Sexual Dependency fails to conform to the usual pattern for representing the division between the West and the Rest, in which films are either set exclusively in the West and deal with it in isolation, or set outside it and present life in a Third World country while the West appears, if at all, as the source of conditions the film depicts. Such a division of labour might be considered a falsifying reification of interdependencies, differences and imposed uniformities which ignore national bounds. In contrast, Sexual Dependency attempts to depict the systemic nature of these commonalities. This need not be considered intentional, although it may reflect that the film is a rare Bolivian--U.S. coproduction with autobiographical roots in the experience of Bellot and cowriter Lenelle Moise, which similarly straddles the First and Third Worlds. More fundamentally, it is an effect of the film's structure of multiple narratives set in a Western and non-Western country. This does not imply the film must have the structure it does because of its subject or the world it depicts. Rather, following Frederic Jameson, the film, like any form, can be read as an "unstable and provisory solution to an aesthetic dilemma which is itself the manifestation of a social and historical contradiction." (1) To understand the aesthetic dilemma which drives Sexual Dependency, we might start with the contradiction.

A first thesis: contemporary American society cannot be fully understood without reference to the Third World realities which both sustain and destabilise it, while, conversely, those realities cannot be specified without relation to the Western society which overshadows them. Unless this interdependence is recognised, we see two seemingly disconnected worlds whose form appears at once inevitable and inexplicable. There is "the view from the top," which "reduces its subjects to the illusions of a host of fragmented subjectivities, to the poverty of the individual experience of isolated monads," and "condemns our culture to psychologism and the "projections" of private subjectivity," and there is, as if in another world, "third-world culture, which must be situational and materialist despite itself." (2) It would follow that placing Western and Third World experience in relation to each other might expose the illusions, and shared realities, which lie behind both. But we can add a second thesis, which contradicts the first yet is equally plausible: it is not possible to represent the global system as a whole (and so to convincingly relate Western and non-Western conditions) because the forms of representation currently available to us cannot grasp the system's scope and complexity. The aesthetic dilemma driving Sexual Dependency is then to accept as its subject what is the most vital issue of our time, the remaking of human experience through the globalisation of capitalism, which is implied by the film's form and content, but cannot be satisfactorily represented by it.

Sexual Dependency's visual and narrative complexity thwarts an individualistic conception of its characters, either through psychological explanation or identification with them. Instead, the film pushes us toward an understanding of its subject matter which is implicitly political, but also self-aware and analytical. An initial approach to considering the film is to regard the visuals as evoking, primarily but not exclusively, the fragmentation of personal subjectivity. Characters' struggles to control their body image are effectively demonstrated through the split screen technique which, in a sense, materialises their unstable identities by incorporating within the frame their own and other perspectives on their body to reveal dualities and inconsistencies. In contrast, the narratives explore more obviously social patterns of dislocation, alienation and repression, with each narrative presenting a character manifesting a particular form of identity that appears at once stabilised and destabilised by equally particular power structures. The multiple narrative form then juxtaposes individual narratives with this content to problematise identity as we see how characters fare when transferred to other stories, where they are exposed to forms of power unlike those under which they have developed.


The division of labour between narrative and visuals is apparent from the opening Bolivian story, "My Baby is a Woman Now," which focuses on Jessica, who is turning fifteen, and her friend, Isabel. The narrative is driven by the pressure on the girls to adopt a traditional patriarchal sexual identity through overt oppression. So we see Jessica's brother criticise her best friend as a "slut," justified by the "everyone knows ..." logic, which prompts Jessica's father to roughly wipe off her lipstick, grabbing her mouth with a brutality that suggests a readiness to violate her in other ways. Jessica's delayed reaction is to allow herself to be "seduced" by a boy, at once conforming and rebelling by giving herself indiscriminately.

Our reaction to this familiar content is complicated by the split screen imagery, which powerfully evokes the acute sensitivity of teenage girls to their body images. At Isabel's coming of age party, we see a row of girls dressed identically in pink, with identically bright, expectant faces matching their dresses--and each other. Their line is refracted and extended through the two halves of the screen to suggest the replication of an ideal image of femininity, one which is made to appear artificial and unstable because of the oscillating point of inflexion where the two screen images meet. Isabel, who is somewhat overweight and plain, stands off to one side watching the arrayed girls, which might suggest her desire for and exclusion from an image of beauty. Yet this reading confined to a psychology of character misses the essentially visual presence, the sheer excess, of this line of girls which evokes standardisation and universalisation--the body in the age of mechanical reproduction.


Jessica conforms to the standard for beauty and so becomes an object of the boys' attention. She is treated no less impersonally, undergoing an affectless and barely consensual seduction by Fabian, who we learn in the next story gate-crashed Isabel's party intent on "hooking up with easy girls from the slums." The faces of the boy and girl as they have sex appear on screen in separate close-ups, one in each image, which might have been expected to convey a stronger sense of intimacy than a conventional shot / reverse shot, but only emphasises their isolation. They are alone together, eyes closed, heads bobbing up and down, apart but caught up in an unsettling rhythm which is in each, but not between or uniting them. Disassociation appears part of the sexual act, but also of a piece with the world of the film through which the split screen extends to present its characters in parallel and non-communicating solitudes.

The imagery in the second story, "You Goddam Whore," in which visiting Columbian teen Sebastian is shown a 'good time,' reflects the coercive physical dynamics of groups rather than the deindividuating isolation of bodies. The boys gather in configurations which sprawl across both screen images but seem, unlike the line of girls at the party, ragged and unruly. In contradiction to the boy's easy patter and jocularity, the visuals suggest division and factionalism and evoke, along with their endless struggles for attention, swearing and loudly voiced prejudices, a collective consciousness that does not admit difference or individuality.

Confounding a simple reading of these stories, there are frequent strange lulls which offer us a view of characters alone but are not quite credible as instances of individual expression. Some are only abrupt momentary stillnesses in one or both images, while others are more extensive. We see Jessica retreat to her room and sit placidly on her bed surrounded by cut-out magazine photos of boys, feeling secure in her private sanctuary, which is actually defined by commercialised images of desire. Sebastian also has an instant of solitary affect, which is equally compromised. As he realises his friends' pressure will force him to surrender his virginity, one half of the screen holds him in close up while the other offers us imagery which might give voice to his feeling, moving from the clear night sky symbolising childhood innocence, to the traffic roundabout with its suggestion of fleeting escape, only to return to his encircling idiotically simpering friends. But there is no reason to think Sebastian experiences his predicament in these terms. When he cries, he appears simply withdrawn from the situation and himself, reduced to inchoate emotionality.

Though real emotion is involved, these moments also suggest an absence of consciousness. They will acquire significance only when joined together in the film's concluding montage to evoke a kind of collective experience (which nevertheless remains without meaningful articulation). Outside this, they suggest that the impoverished subjectivity of the characters is accompanied by episodes of undifferentiated, generic feeling which Jameson relates to post-modern capitalism and calls "intensities" that "are now free-floating and impersonal, and tend to be dominated by a peculiar kind of euphoria ..." (3) The film presents these instances as being nothing more than residual instants not taken up into the world of public display, the vacuity of uncolonised internal space rather than the revelation of some inner life in relief from the pressure to perform and conform.

The third story, entitled "The Bluest Eyes in the World," centres on Choco, who appears close to the male ideal, rich, sexually assertive, strong, if also subject to wild rages and violent outbursts. Yet his predictable behaviour cannot be interpreted in traditional terms. For instance, the extended scene in which he admires his reflection in a mirror is no simple narcissism or autoeroticism. As Choco looks and seems to see nothing in particular, his identity is exposed as purely formal, an empty gaze on the image of himself. His self-inspection is intercut with images from the next scene, of a fashion show in which his girlfriend appears, which makes his vacuous self-display seem part of an anticipatory fantasy of the show and the image-based consumption system of which it is a part. If he appears rooted in mirror stage confusion, in love with his image but unable to distinguish it from others, this is a mirror stage penetrated by commerce.

Choco's move to America to study provides a narrative continuity to reinforce the superficial resemblance in lifestyles and attitudes between the film's Bolivian and American characters. However, our sense of the film's coherence is abruptly disrupted at its end, when we belatedly realise Choco was raped in America. The perfunctory reduction of the stereotypical scion of the Latin American ruling class to anonymous victimhood may illustrate how a globalised capitalist society does not allow a secure position to anyone. More interesting is that it also proves an example of how the multiple narrative structure suggests the systemic nature of what seem individual stories, without reducing them to instances of some universal rule.

At first sight, Choco appears to become the object for the frustrations of a tangled network of homoerotic and homophobic bonds between a group of jocks in one American story, entitled "Angels and Billboards," but these cannot be considered in isolation from the social order evoked by the American stories' mise-en-scene. This is dominated by ambient motion and anonymous activity, with long sequences of characters moving around alone in the denatured institutional setting of a university campus and exchanging greetings of stilted bonhomie with unseen others. Also apparent in this story is the omnipresent mediation of images in interpersonal relations, which are thereby rendered so incoherent they approach the pathological. Students playing a boxing video game strangely resemble, without their shirts, the figures in the simulation, as if they have identified themselves with these unreal images. This would imply they are fighting each other through the images, while the others watching identify with the two playing / fighting, but only indirectly, through a primary identification with the figures on screen.

The replacement of social relations with mediating images is related to the standardisation of the body through a juxtaposition of two scenes in the split screen, one a football practice, the other the shooting of an underwear advertisement. We see the process of training the male body co-ordinated with the production of advertising that recreates this body as an object of desire. The common element is Tyler, who is on the football team and the model in the ad--and also gay and repressed. This reminds us that what might seem a process of abstraction--in which identity is "branded" with an overlaying image through advertising--is part of a system of production that remains fundamentally industrial, takes the human body as its material, and subsumes the traditional homosocial nexus which forms male identity.

Choco's homophobic rapist, Sean, is part of this nexus, as is Tyler, who is treated as one of the guys and included in their mocking locker room banter, even as it veers unpredictably into questioning sexual orientation. There are hints Sean senses something different in Tyler, which may explain the odd looks they exchange, but also would not disallow desire on Tyler, or Sean's, part. What is odd is that the "repressed" of this predictable system is not hidden but flagrantly on display in Tyler, who is somehow safely hidden behind his image, his designation through advertising as the ideal object of desire making him untouchable. So all that happens is Sean wears the conspicuously branded "RIGO BosD" underwear that Tyler advertises in a potential repressed homoerotic identification, while Tyler's furtive glances seek and find male bodies everywhere, in the same underwear made desirable through association with his body. But this cannot be seen in terms of unconscious libidinal investments which exist in a state of pure Freudian cliche and are then co-opted into displaying and gazing on underwear. Sean wears RIGO BosD underwear and Tyler desires those who wear it simply because everyone wears RIGO BosD underwear--and for the same reason, which is that everyone wears it, completing what is a circuit not of desire but exchange.

Excluded from this circuit, Choco becomes a crude symbol for the Third World. The fundamental precondition for his being the object for the story's male confusion is that he appears to American eyes as simply that, an object. Though confident of participating in the American dream, on arrival, he promptly finds his English is not recognised as such by the assertive black woman who unmans him without even trying, then finds his roommates the very image of dudes hanging out, but is immediately made aware he is not to be one of them. Equally quickly, he disappears from the scenes set in the U.S. as if to confirm his non-person status, re-appearing only after he has been raped, reduced to an agitated, violated body dislocated from character or story.


He is raped by what might be read simplistically as a personification of the West in the form of drunken white males, except that the rape's disconnected presentation spread through the film has the disconcerting effect of also making it illustrate the history of a black woman named Adina. We have already heard this recounted in the first American story, a monologue entitled "Mirrors" whose polemical litany of racial and sexual oppression culminated in Adina's voiceover account of her rape, accompanied by imagery which turns out to be of Choco's. However, we realise this only later, near the end of the film, when we see the rape sequence's concluding images, which reveal the victim. It is hard to be sure if we are intended to regard Adina's monologue as giving expression to Choco's violation, figuring as a kind of de facto narration of it, or as subordinating and overwriting it with her own story. The ambiguity deepens the more closely Adina's monologue is considered.

"Mirrors" begins by relating something like the Lacanian mirror stage, in which Adina recognises her own image as the foundation of her identity, but one alienated from itself because it is recognised as other than the desirable white male image. This might remind us of Choco's self-examination in the mirror and suggest the monologue's relation to his rape is part of a larger system through which it gives voice to moments in the film which are otherwise unarticulated, particularly as the events from her life which Adina recounts are illustrated by scenes from the Bolivian stories. Adina's voice, one historically positioned as other within the West, may become a narrator of otherness and its vicissitudes, speaking the experience of another culture alienated by globalisation.


However, it can perform this function only unwittingly. Further, this voice given to the Third World other is formed in the West, and not one it would have chosen for itself, certainly in Choco's case, and most likely for the other Bolivians. The appearance of Adina's monologue as the voice of otherness is problematic for another reason. When the monologue resumes after Choco is exposed as the rape victim, we see it is in fact being rehearsed for a theatre piece, and so does not necessarily recount anyone's actual history. Adina is not even Adina; her voice is that of Maxine, the actress playing the character "Adina" in "Mirrors," a play within something called "Sexual Dependency Monologues."

If Choco's rape appears as the illustration of Adina's monologue, the monologue fails to adhere to it, producing a disconnection or disjunction that is--given the two characters do not even meet--impersonal, generalised and irremediable. Their experiences of exclusion are incommensurable, precluding some mutually communicable experience of difference even as they seem to imply it. The effect is that Choco is, in a way, raped twice over, literally by the homophobic jocks and then figuratively by their diametrical opposite, an articulate black woman, as if an American society divided into polar extremes shares only an instinct to spot and use the outsider to advance its own stories. This "instinct" is unconscious in the sense that it lies outside character. Its logic must be found in the film's structure, and the global order that it implies through the relations between its component narratives. The shape of this order emerges when we consider the social context implicit in the two American stories as a kind of benchmark against which to relate the film's narratives.

The American stories evoke the form of a monoculture paradoxically characterised by omnipresent decentralised antagonisms following the reshaping of social life as a battlefield through the culture wars. Characters appear subsumed in some formalised group identity--the jock, the black feminist, the queer--negatively differentiated by the object of their hostility, usually sexual, rather than characterised by some distinctive collective life. These reified identities are not really essential to character, so that, for instance, Tyler finds his way to a campus gay group only to vaguely drift through the room while its members perform group rituals--the drag act, the coming out drama--in a mode of habituated camp. This is not conventionally conceived alienation, which might have seemed an adequate diagnosis of the Bolivian characters' condition if the film had presented them solely in terms of their own narratives.

Set against the American stories, the Bolivian ones present a society in which the vestigial remnants of traditional structures are being hollowed out by the advanced capitalism already fully realised in the West. When we see how the lives of Santa Cruz' privileged teenagers revolve around displaying themselves in a kind of fashion show at the local Burger King, this suggests the reconfiguring of venerable adolescent behaviours around consumption and media-proffered images, in an embryonic form of the asocial relations of the American sub-narratives. Apart from this artificially isolated, vacuous world for the few, the bulk of the characters in the Bolivian stories remain locked in what is no "real" or "natural" life lost to the West but a society riven by overt class tensions and brutalised by patriarchy. Bellot depicts a harsh order in which you either trek on foot through the dirt or cruise by in an SUV, riding above or toiling below, with nothing in between.

While the American subnarratives offer a template against which the social context of the Bolivian stories is explicated, those stories can in turn frame an understanding of seemingly contingent aspects of the American subnarratives--such as Choco's fall from privilege or the jocks' compulsive homophobia--in essential and systemic terms. This would see values and power realities contiguous to those which rule in Bolivia as prevailing in America too and only masked behind commodified images which simulate looser forms of social organisation and personal identity. With no definitive break between these two societies, both the film's American and Bolivian characters manifest hybrid identities, formed by still operant coercive traditional forces and simultaneously reordered by capitalism, most obviously through its unreal marketing images which permeate all experience in the film.

These complications effected by Sexual Dependency's multiple narrative structure do not produce a determinate specification of "the global system." Rather, the image of America as a society liberated from material hardship and sexual strictures comes to appear as the fantasy which the film's Latin American teenagers are being made to act out. This fantasy stands in stark contrast not just to the reality of Westernisation, but the reality of the West presented in the American stories. What the film depicts is not globalisation or Americanisation as usually conceived, but the effect of a radical acceleration of basic processes of capitalism, such as social antagonism and commodification, operating across the globe in ways at once local and systematic.

The resulting relation between West and Rest is consistent with the film's title: a dependency which could be called sexual. It is clearly not emotional, as the Western model is followed by the Bolivian teens without apparent love, hate or even awareness, nor is the dependency simply economic, as part of what is at work is a desire for the image of the West. This desire is sexual in that it results in the image of the West investing and penetrating non-Western bodies. And it brings dependency because it is desire as lack--lack of the proffered ideal image, which feeds on pre-existing forms of desire as lack, such as patriarchy.

The coordination of conditions in the West and Rest is not only implicit in narrative relations between the film's American and Bolivian substories. It also appears embodied, in a billboard for the ubiquitous RIGO BosD underwear that sits on an intersection passed by each character in the Bolivian stories and whose advertising image featuring Tyler we see produced in 'Angels and Billboards.' (4)

As key events in the film play out in in one screen image, the billboard regularly recurs in the other like a silent witness, almost a subject, presiding over all the film's action. From its appearance in the opening sequence--occupying both screen images, across one of which steps a trousered and well-heeled leg while a coloured foot falls, sandalled and bare, into the other--it is also a consistent sign of racial, class and economic divisions, which its recurrences associate with the content of the film's narratives.

While images fill the absences in social relations and desire in the American subnarratives, in Bolivia, the billboard is an overt physical presence, functioning as a kind of master image orchestrating the remaking of Latin American bodies and so representing a literal, physical Western control over the materiality of the Third World. Yet while the billboard is an ordering sign, in that sexual and economic power and identity flow around it, it does not have a clear regulating function. It instances how capitalism does not so much create its own meanings as opportunistically correlate itself with pre-existing ones to enter them into exchange.

Relating the American subnarrative in which we see the billboard image produced to the Bolivian ones places the billboard at the intersection of a system of desire with a system of power, as part of a global organisation which fuses power and desire. Implicitly, Sexual Dependency ties the reorganisation of social conflicts within the West around identity politics to the process whereby capitalism has, through globalisation, not so much been projected outward as assumed a new world scale. One consequence is that the tensions surrounding sexuality pervading the American stories cannot be simply psychologised, because we see them channelled into production of the billboard, an instrument of cultural power over the Third World. And, viewing the same dynamic from the "other" Third World perspective, if issues like sexual freedom--of which the billboard offers a false image--seem to give content to Westernisation, its reality is the propagation across the globe of economic relations which are veiled behind such content.

The angry, ideological content of Adina's narrative is also a product of Western identity politics and colonises Choco's experience much as the billboard dominates the lives of the Bolivian characters. But the film shows this process is not deliberate or personal, as the Western identities involved are political and socialised. The black woman's voice and white boy's homosexual desire, which are repressed and displaced in the West, come to rest attached to a materiality that is not their own but is similarly construed as other (the material of Third World bodies), overlaying it with their disembodied, dislocated image (Tyler in the billboard) or voice (Adina's narrative superimposed on Choco's rape). They can do this because the Third World other is deprived of its own voice and self-image, as Choco is in America.

This suggests a larger context for the failure of the Adina narrative to relate to the Bolivian characters, one which would focus on the form, rather than the content, of the relation between them. It would see that form as an effect of the structurally and stylistically fragmented world of the film, which mirrors that of contemporary capitalism. Within both, a voice like Adina's must attach itself to an unstable flow of images and bodies which have been uprooted from established systems of signification and entered into motion (in the case of the film, through its split screen and overlapping narratives) or exchange (in reality). The attachment of narrative structure to these flows can only be provisional and opportunistic. Adina's monologue can thus seem to speak of some broader Bolivian experience, but without implying the objective conditions of the marginalised in the First and Third Worlds are in any way similar or even related. It may reflect only the disordering of the stable reference any act of communication requires for expression and experience to cohere, which results in narratives of difference, just as much as of sameness, appearing at once generalised and faulted.

An analogous challenge is made to the thematic cogency of the film itself by its freewheeling style. The rapid-fire imagery, often without dialogue or explicit narrative function and held together by fleeting moods coerced by generic pop songs, seems a self-aware pastiche of advertising, reality television and music videos, exaggerated by Bellot's over-ready indulgence of fashionable stylistic devices. One effect, which is intentional, is to evoke a social reality in which an omnipresence of images overlays bodies and cultures to dissolve and fragment them. Another, though, is to place any structures of meaning in the film under the same pressure from its own imagery, which invites forms of association that undermine its narrative logic. Sexual Dependency risks falling victim to the tendency for style to overwhelm substance, which might mark the reading of the contemporary capitalist order that it can sustain as accidental, if not inconsistent, given this tendency is part of that order.

This state of affairs leaves open two possibilities. First, it does not prevent inference of what Jameson calls "the referent" of a text, such as Adina's narrative or the film itself, which is not its meaning but "the limit of its meanings, and of their historical preconditions, and of what is and must remain incommensurable with individual expression." (5) Jameson likens this to an absent cause which is implied as the determining form of contemporary experience and which, though it cannot be represented explicitly in a text, can find figures through which to express itself in distorted ways. (6) For the experiences represented in the film, this absent cause is the power implied by Adina's narrative and Choco's fate, not in their content but through the form of their conjunction (or disjunction), which relates sexual subjugation to racial and cultural outside of the fictions of national and personal identity. The film can be read as implicating without identifying this referent, even if it does so unsatisfactorily and is overwhelmed by its subject and style (which may be seen as a consequence of the referent's unrepresentable presence).

Secondly, even if a fictional narrative such as Adina's (or the film itself) cannot reveal the reality of experience outside the dominant order, it may create alternate possibilities for such experience in the uncoded interstices of the social and personal formations produced by power. Something like this may occur when Adina's monologue resumes after we have seen Choco exposed as the rape victim. Aligned with her recalling that, after her rape, she saw herself reflected in the mirror and laughed, we see those earlier moments of vacancy involving the film's other characters reprised. It may be that these instances of experience outside the homogenised image of teenage life can in fact be served by a single narrative, precisely because they are moments of absence, though this depends on seeing difference not as a thing in itself, awaiting articulation, but as coming into being with its articulation. The film does not achieve such an articulation; at most, it implies the existence of spaces in which this might occur.

Sexual Dependency's conclusion presents its characters in a sequence which suggests they share (or attempts to create for them) heterogeneous but inter-communicating experiences of exclusion, though the suggestion is not fully convincing. To a loudly melancholy musical accompaniment, we move from Choco raped and swearing to Sebastian vomiting just after his encounter with the prostitute. There is another shot of the billboard's mute watching presence as Jessica next appears, also vomiting (perhaps pregnant). We see Sean watch Tyler complete the by now heavy-handed epidemic of vomiting, they exchange a final ambiguous look and the film ends with Jessica and Tyler expressionless, the Bolivian and American aware of their own exclusion but not of each other, aligned on screen in separate close-ups.

The film's conclusion may seem an unsatisfactory representation of its character's predicament, but this is the only representation such a predicament can have. Our sense of something failing to come to expression or being blocked reflects both the situation of this generation--at a stage prior to voicing its resistance, so that only its oppression can be represented--and of the film itself, whose drive to capture the complex interactions of American and Bolivian experience reduces to presenting the lowest common denominator of contemporary life, its excess of gross materiality.

Apart from any meaning that might be read into Sexual Dependency's concluding montage, the experience common to its characters is one of abjection. It is as if they expel the excess forced into them--of images, peer pressure, sexualisation, violence. That this is only a mechanical bodily reflex makes it the culmination of the processes whereby materiality overwhelms signification: character is effaced by body, the economic overwhelms the social and cultural, the film as narrative is swamped by the film as visual medium, the Third World body--Choco--reappears as a residual outside systems of meaning like Adina's narrative or the homosocial order of "Angels and Billboards." The material excess which Sexual Dependency's characters cannot absorb also appears beyond the system of power which the film can only infer as the source of their common condition. Never fully articulated in the film, or anywhere else, this system remains determinate yet unrepresentable--and open.

Michael Sofair lives in Sydney, Australia. He has had various review articles published in Film Quarterly.


1 The Jameson Reader, ed. M. Hardt and K. Weeks, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000, 312.

2 Ibid, 336.

3 Ibid, 200.

4 The billboard also figures in another story, outside the film. The director had it mounted at an intersection in Santa Cruz and a related website promptly began receiving inquiries about manufacturing rights for the underwear (whose name joins that of the production company for Sexual Dependency, BosD, with what may be an abbreviation for Bellot's first name, Rodrigo). In effect inserting themselves into the film's flow of images, the filmmakers may acknowledge the problematic nature of presuming a stable position outside a "reality" which is increasingly contrived for commercial exchange.

5 Ibid, 110.

6 Ibid, 27.
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Author:Sofair, Michael
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:3BOLI
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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