Filth Jon S Baird (2013 Scot Ger Swe ) James McAvoy
Viewed Empire Cinema newcastle upon Tyne 17 Oct 13 ticket: £6.40
Now here’s a funny thing: when I left the cinema after seeing
Filth, protagonist Bruce Robertson’s catch phrase: Same rules apply
– kept on ringing about in my head. Whenever Robertson did the
dirty on some poor sap who crossed his path, he would quip: ‘Same
rules apply’ Although I didn’t quite get it at first, the phrase got
me thinking about Rules which I presume is what both Director Jon
Baird and writer Irvine Welsh, who wrote the novel, intended.
The opening sequences of Filth introduce two locations : the
bedroom and the police station, settings which provide much of the
film’s action. Bottoms up and bottoms down you might say; sex and
power lie at the heart of the film’s concern. In the opening
sequence of Filth we see a sexy woman provocatively dressing and
talking about power being the ultimate turn on and how she keeps hold
of her policeman husband by playing the tease. The scene providies a
significant cue that sex as a power tool would play hard ball in this
The second sequence of shots introduces the protagonist Bruce
Robertson of the Edinburgh CID as, during a breifing for a murder
case, he leeringly appraises and evaluates his rivals for promotion.
In the screen tradition of Touch of Evil, LA Confidential and Joe
Orton’s Loot, I had thought that Filth would feature police
corruption in its narrative. But in the same way that at a given
level Welsh’s Trainspotting is not about drug dealing, so Filth is
not about police corruption. It’s not even about the police.
Although its key setting might be the Edinburgh CID, this is not
central to the situation that Baird set ups and develops. The plot
hinges on the manipulations and gambits made by Bruce Robertson in
his attempt to secure promotion to the rank of Detective Inspector.
As a promotion competition the plot could be set inside any corporate
body: Amazon, BA Systems, Ford or some large Council.
Filth is grounded not so much in particiulars as in universals.
Same rules apply. Filth is not concerned with the particular
relations and practices engendered by the police in their role as the
interface between Society and the Law. Filth’s focus of concern is
raw competition; the battle between men for scare resources: the
battle for Promotion. An indivisible prize only one man or woman can
In Filth. Baird probes the state of our society in a manner that
might be philisophically grounded in the writings of Thomas Hobbes,
the 17th century political philosopher. Although Hobbes
was writing to justify the state, his ideas can be transposed to any
level of catastrophic social disintegration. In the 20th
and 21st centuries Welsh and Baird realise that it is the
break down at the micro level of social ordering which is leading to
chaotic social conditions. The disappearance of collective
institutions, with their values and structures, in the face of
attack by sociopathic individualism. A collapsed social situation
that is well summed up by Hobbes: “it is manifest
that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all
in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a
war as is of every man against every man.”
The moral consequences of this break down of social order provides
the framework for Filth. In vacuum caused by break down of the moral
order, the sociopath fills the gap. In persuit of promotion Bruce
Robertson is at war with everyone, and as war has become the default
state: same rules apply.
As is the case in the bedroom where sex is persued both as a war
strategy and as a basis of personal identity. With sex and power
linked, sexual relations also become located within the chaotic
conditions of the war of all against all and become the centre of a
dysfunctional self identity. Like drugs sex can be both adictive and
subject to what Bill Boroughs calls the bitch of tolerance: you
always need more of a substance to get the same effect.
As Filth develops Bruce needs more sex. Detached from feeling,
his power play sex becomes an increasingly isolated masturbatory
ritual . Sex drives Bruce into a kind of blindness, a black hole
through which light neither enters nor leaves.
As constructed by Baird and Welsh Filth is a dystopian fable
grounded in the breakdown of the micro order. interesting
that at the beginning of the film the audience were laughing at the
slightest sugestion of a smutty joke or risque reference; at the end
of the movie, there was not much laughter. Hobbes is worth
quoting again as he summerises human life in relation to the
conditions of the war of all against all: (quote) ‘ in this condition
the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and
short.’ Which is a accurate desciption how Baird and Welsh have
mapped the moral career of Bruce Robertson.
So: Same rules apply….what does it mean? It’s
telling you there are ‘no rules’. So watch out.