Apr 062020

Love & Human Remains is a 1993 drama film. It tells several interwoven stories of people in the big city, while in the background a serial killer murders women. The main character is David (Thomas Gibson), a gay former actor who coasts through life as a waiter and nightclub regular.

Love definitely has some resemblance to Cruising: paranoid people in an urban environment, a serial killer who could be anybody, masculinity in crisis. We get glimpses of the killings on news shows, but the characters, too self-absorbed, skip past them. 

Benita (Mia Kirshner) seems to vibe on that urban paranoia. She’s primarily a dominatrix, often telling classic urban legends (e.g. “the guy with the hook” or “the baby sitter and the extension cord”) during her sessions with men in her apartment. 

Benita (Mia Kirshner) in full dominatrix gear

She says she’s psychic, which her friend David believes. He brings an underage man named Kane to see her, and gets the three of them to snort heroin (which Kane thinks will be cocaine), so she can “read” him. Not exactly a model of consent. She says that Kane is in love with David, to which David says “No such thing.” Benita jacks off Kane, which still feels pretty rape-y.

Later, Kane doesn’t remember what happened that night. David initially tells him that he jacked off Kane, who is shocked, then says Benita did it. 

Benita (Mia Kirshner) at the mercy of the Man in Black

Later on, Benita is in a session with another man, dressed in a full-black cowboy outfit, complete with jangling spurs and spaghetti Western music. Benita, in pigtails and damsel-in-distress outfit, is tied to the bondage post in her apartment. 

Man in Black: “Okay, bitch. Now I’m going to show you how to act like a real woman.”

Benita: “Get real, asshole.”

The Man in Black backhands her. I assume that this is, in the diegesis of the film, faked, as Benita doesn’t have an eyelash out of place in later scenes. 

Man in Black : “Watch your fucking mouth.”

The closet door bursts open and David emerges in an all-white cowboy outfit, complete with sheriff’s badge. 

David: “Just what the hell’s going on here?”

Man in black: [terrified] “We were just having a little fun.”

David: “I’ll show you fun, boy.” 

David punches him in the face, apparently for real, and knocks him down. Man in Black gets off on it. Benita watches, still tied up. 

Man in Black: “Please. Please don’t hurt me.” [starts fondling, kisses, licks David’s white boot]

David gives Benita a “Can you believe this?” look. Benita grins back at him.

Cowboy moves on to fellating the pointy toe of David’s boot. 

David grimaces. 

In the next scene, Benita and David eat breakfast in a cafe. David complains about “watching Herb get off on the cowboy schtick.”

Benita: “At least he was paying for it, not forcing it on someone who wasn’t into it. You were very good. Very believable.”

David: “He could have been my father. Your father.”

Benita: “My father was never that gentle.”

This plays into the common trope of the sex worker who was abused as a child.

One of the plotlines is David’s relationship with his old friend Bernie (Cameron Bancroft), who seems increasingly unstable and deeply resentful of David leaving the city to be an actor. 

When David meets Bernie, he sees that Bernie’s glove compartment is full of women’s earrings, just like the ones taken by the killer. It isn’t clear if he makes the connection. He tells Bernie to take him to Benita, saying, “She’ll do us both.”

Apparently getting some kind of psychic alert, Benita dismisses her current client. 

At the apart, Bernie grabs Benita and throws her around, while remaining focused on David. 

David: “Relax, man!”

Bernie: “She’s no one.”

David: “She’s someone.”

Benita grabs Bernie’s head and makes him re-experience all the women he killed. 

Bernie goes completely deranged, and starts to strangle Benita. David does very little to stop this. 

Bernie stops and leaves the apartment. David wants to take Benita to a hospital, but she tells him to chase after Bernie. 

David eventually finds Bernie on the roof of his apartment building, talking about how, “They were hairdressers and secretaries, for Christ’s sake.” Bernie’s misogynistic murders are deeply tied to his repressed feelings for David. He jumps off the building, killing himself. 

Sometime later, we see Benita in a green bathrobe, the first time we have seen her in anything other than black. 

Three times in this film, we see David and a supposedly straight man work out their sexual issues, mediated or catalyzed by the presence of Benita. She plays the object of desire for the pretense of heterosexuality, even though the primary axis of desire is between the two men. Thus she doesn’t really have a character arc of her own. The BDSM scenes are reflections of the pathologies that are found in all characters, though not as catharsis.

Mia Kirshner played the manipulative Jenny in the original The L Word, which almost had a BDSM storyline. Director Denys Arcand frequently touched on the idea of urban decay. The film was adapted from a stage play by Brad Fraser, who later became a producer and writer on the US version of Queer as Folk.

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