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Sex involves fear. Sex can be, in fact, terrifying; but nothing could be more frightening than the first sexual experience between Ben and Grant.
Both boys attend high school and meet in detention after one of them is caught smoking. Grant's sloppiness and roughness are a major turn on for Ben. Since the first minutes, there is a clear division between these characters. Ben idly chats with a friend while sitting on his car, while Grant arrives to school on the bus. Ben's harmonic features place him in traditional beauty canons while Grant's physical harshness and neglected self-care are almost enough to ostracize him.
Nonetheless, Ben will feel attracted to Grant from the very beginning. And out of this attraction, he will accept to give his new friend and two other boys a ride home. Night falls as they reach an isolated house in the middle of the woods. During the long hours driving, the other boys make fun of Ben, trying to make him feel guilty for owning a car and living in a good neighborhood. None of this matters to Ben, who is fixated on Grant and the possibility of spending time with him.
When Claude Levi-Strauss, father of Structuralism, described the socialization process in tribes that had never been visited by Western people, he came to a conclusion. When describing the organization of the shelters, some of the inhabitants would lay out a map of sorts in which all placements were equally distributed, close to the river and somehow in an orderly manner; while the others would describe this organization in two opposing arrangements, in which a group of power would have a privileged location near the river while the rest was confined in peripheral settlements. For Levi-Strauss, this was irrefutable evidence that people have a certain mental structure, and they build their view on the world upon those structures; it doesn't matter if they have been raised according to Western values or not.
This structure of social unfairness is present in the beginning of Carter Smith's short film, but it only gets heightened at the end. Grant's friends are clearly society's rejects, even at such a young age, they're resentful and envious. But not Grant whose mind and goals are entirely somewhere else, far away from society's faults.
Grant tells Ben a rather unpleasant story. Before moving into town, he used to go to the woods and jerk off while looking at the stars, until one night, just before climax, he feels a pinch in his leg and all of a sudden his nervous system paralyzes. Grant confesses that even though he understood he could die, that was still the best and most intense sexual moment of his life.
As he intends to repeat this experiment with Ben, one thing remains clear: this is not about sex, and it was never about sex, it's all about the Lacanian phantasm. The peculiar joy of flirting with death is marked by the economy of the excess, and it will fuel the strengthening of the phantasm as a screen that veils the lack in the other. Despite being beautiful, Ben is, after all, just a good, normal boy, possessing nothing that could ignite depravity in the eyes of Grant. In "Bugcrush", this moment is marked by the emergence of sexual excitation when the two boys sit together in bed; the real irrupts in Ben's body producing a fracture at the level of the narcissistic capture of his bodily image; perhaps akin to Grant's anecdote on immobile limbs. Anything that filters, that appears through this structural fissure the privilege point for the appearance of the phantasmatic object- will provoke angst. The perverse phantasm is expressed by the neurotic as a way of containing, covering his angst before the other's desire, while at the same time it permits the neurotic to situate the realization of his desire at a distance. One way of understanding the ending, which I won't spoil, is to accept that while Ben looks for companionship Grant seeks only that which will fulfill its fantasy; and it's not a sexual fantasy, it's a fantasy that appears to be sexual but depends only on the phantasmatic reenactment of that near-to-death experience he talked about. And that is why Lacan says that the phantasm's function is to support desire, to sustain it and maintain, but to never satisfy it.
Few times have I seen such an unexpected and bone-chilling ending. A truly remarkable work, especially keeping in mind the intensity reached after only half an hour. Now we know the phantasm, after all, cannot function in terms of love or sex, and that is what Ben will come to understand only too late.
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