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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Shortbus is a 2006 film written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell, writer/director/star of the play and film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The comic and tragic plot revolves around a sexually diverse group of emotionally-challenged New Yorkers trying desperately to connect in post-9/11, Bush-exhausted bohemian New York. The characters converge on a weekly Brooklyn artistic/sexual salon loosely inspired by various underground NYC gatherings that took place in the early 00s. According to Mitchell, the film attempts to "employ sex in new cinematic ways".


The movie is set in contemporary New York City and revolves around Sofia (played by Canadian singer and radio/TV personality Sook-Yin Lee), a married woman and couples counselor/sex therapist who has herself never achieved an orgasm. She comes into contact with a couple: former child star Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and James (Paul Dawson). The soft-spoken James, a former prostitute, is the film's other main character. At the outset, James suggests to his boyfriend that they open up their relationship to sex with others.

During their first consultation, Sofia snaps, slaps Jamie and apologetically reveals her "pre-orgasmic" status. The couple suggests she attend a weekly social/artistic/sexual salon in Brooklyn called "Shortbus", which is hosted by drag performance artist Justin Bond (playing himself). Bond is well-known in the alternative cabaret world as Kiki of Kiki & Herb. Sofia slowly opens up to new experiences; this includes a friendship with a dominatrix who goes by the name Severin (Lindsay Beamish), which was the name of the masochist protagonist of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's classic novel Venus in Furs. Sofia's inability to achieve orgasm begins to cause conflict with her husband Rob (Raphael Barker). Rob begins attending Shortbus with Sofia.

James and Jamie meet a young ex-model and aspiring singer named Ceth (pronounced "Seth", and portrayed by singer-songwriter Jay Brannan) and the three begin a sexual relationship. Meanwhile James and Jamie's life is being closely watched by their across-the-street neighbor Caleb (Peter Stickles). Caleb fears the inclusion of Ceth in James and Jamie's relationship might break them up and thus destroy his ability to live vicariously through them, so he attends Shortbus, where he confronts Ceth.

Sofia begins to go daily to a spa with a sensory deprivation tank to meet with Severin, and the two begin to have intense conversations. Severin begins to help Sofia loosen up sexually; Sofia helps Severin achieve a deeper human connection than she had experienced before. One evening at Shortbus, Severin discusses with Sofia the idea of giving up sex work to pursue her dream of being an artist. The two then have an unplanned sexual experience, and once again Sofia is left unsatisfied.

Throughout the film we see James making a film about himself and his relationship. It turns out to be a suicide note. He attempts to take his own life and is rescued by his stalker Caleb, who calls for help but is too embarrassed to wait with James for the help to arrive. He writes his phone number and email address on James' face while he is unconscious. When James wakes in the hospital, he calls Caleb. James goes to Caleb's home to be consoled, but does not contact Jamie or Ceth, neither of whom can understand why he wouldn't call them or come home.

There follows an interlocking trio of scenes showing connections between the characters' emotional problems and their sexual lives.

  1. At Caleb's house, he and James have sex, and James allows Caleb to penetrate him, something he has never allowed anyone to do before. Afterward, in a dramatic revelation, James is seen in the window of Caleb's apartment by Jamie, who realizes in that moment that James is alive and okay.
  2. Rob and Severin have a paid encounter where Rob asks to be beaten, something he couldn't ask Sofia to do. As this progresses, Severin loses control and Rob tries to comfort her.
  3. Sofia seems to have a dream of struggling through an overgrown, wild forested area to a gentle seashore where she tries to achieve orgasm again. On failing, she screams, and in the real world the lights go off across the city, seemingly caused by the simultaneous and collective frustration of the characters.

The film ends with a song by Justin Bond at Shortbus during the blackout. Sofia arrives and finds Rob with Severin and after acknowledging him sits down by herself. James and Jamie also arrive followed by Ceth and Caleb.

Justin's song starts on a wistful note, but as it progresses it becomes more energetic and positive thanks to the arrival of the Hungry March Band. This is mirrored in the actions and emotions of the actors. Jamie and James make out on the floor, and Ceth and Caleb start to hit it off. Rob seems to find a friend, and Severin progresses from nervous anxiety to happy elation upon the arrival of the band.

While having a threesome with a couple whom she has seen several times before (Nick and Leah, played by Jan Hilmer and Shanti Carson), Sofia finally achieves an orgasm, and the blackout affecting New York ends, as does the film.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Shortbus" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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