“I think all my films are about the question we all have to ask which is, ‘Are we going to be alone or are we not going to be alone?' I mean, they're all about that. It seems so easy to be alone on paper; you don't have to deal with anyone else's needs. You can just do what you want. But, why is it impossible [to be with someone]? It's completely what this film is about and what Hedwig was about,” says Mitchell, who wrote and directed Shortbus .
“It's just that I use different cinematic language in Shortbus . In Hedwig , I used, you know, song and elements of drag while here I use sexual language and music.”
An underlying theme in Mitchell's work is the need and desire to connect, especially when people don't seem to realize its benefits and ease. “It's [the theme of Shortbus ], connection,” says Mitchell. “People feel lonely and feel the need to connect but … I actually would argue that it's impossible to be alone – without just ending it. We all have to deal with it. We're in New York and in the shadow of 9/11; the specter of death is there. But, let's be thankful for it because it actually can make you think of what's important in life. The fact that we're not alone actually will save us.”
The most glaring characteristic of Shortbus is the explicit sex, but Mitchell is interested in alternative explorations of the subject and wants to invite alternative considerations of it. “Sex is our … Jennifer Aniston; it's like the thing that people wanna talk about,” he says. “That's fine, but I also remind people that in their own lives, sex has a powerful sway, pull; but it's connected to all these other things. It's not just erotic. It's quite emotional and even intellectually stimulating, connected to ideas and politics. And, it's hilarious. If anyone saw themselves in that position … it's funny, right?”
Mitchell's aim is to demystify sex and to make it much more culture-friendly than the common perception. “For all our financiers, they're all scared to invest the money but they sure all wanted to see the movie. If the sex hadn't been explicit, people wouldn't have known how to market it. And they would've demanded a star,” he says.
For Mitchell, using sex is only a metaphor, a way of conveying a larger meaning. He does not expect viewers to have any sexual reaction to Shortbus . “There's nothing erotic about this film,” he says. “Sex doesn't linger in this film. Sex in this film is de-eroticizing it.”
It's clear that Mitchell's usage of sex in both Hedwig and Shortbus has a dual purpose – not only does it accent the story, but it serves as a cinematic language, as well.
“Sex is a way of telling a story. It's a language. It's like cinematography, a way of showing something. So, sex is a metaphoric language in my film for other things. For example, you meet all those characters having sex and you learn about them from the way they're having sex,” says Mitchell, concluding, “I say [sex is] a way of telling a story. The film would have been less powerful had it not been this explicit.”