In 1971, we were given “The French Connection”, a gritty crime drama about the cocaine and heroine epidemic that swept the streets of
“Bug”, under the production of Lionsgate (who have brought us such films as “Kids”, “The Red Violin”, and “Crash”, just to name a few) rarely disappoints the pubic with the movies that pop out of there. The movie starts off with a preview of the ending, an unidentifiable dead man covered in blood in a blue room wrapped in tin foil. Right off the bat we know that we’re in for a very smart and thrilling story. It then fades to black and presents the landscape of the barren lands of Midwestern state. In the background a phone is ringing – picked up hastily by Ashley Judd; annoyed that there is no one responding on the receiver. This occurs three more times without any answer – suspicion and paranoia kick in. Well for me anyway, people calling and hanging up is on the top of my list that provoke those feelings.
Ashley Judd plays as Agnes, a lonely alcoholic divorcee of an ex-con (who has just come out of jail for attempting to kill her) who works at a lesbian bar and is introduced to Peter Evans (played by Michael Shannon), a shy son of a preacher man who is very perceptive but mysterious all the same. So far 45 or so minutes into the film, the title doesn’t come close into play. Granted I’ve seen the preview in theaters (for months) and was saddened that it was so shortly lived in the theaters, so I have a general idea of what I could possibly be in for. But am I? What are we really in for? Limited dialogue? Dead pan, real world settings of loss and longing? Slow close-ups of inanimate objects that spark unexamined memories? So far, yes. And I am not complaining.
I watched closely, almost attentively to see Ashley work her magic playing the battered woman, doing what she does best I guess (and it never gets old). And Michael, reprising his theater role as Peter has a rugged handsomeness about him that 1. Makes you want to get to know about him and 2. Makes you want to get to know about him even more! And playing Jerry, the abusive ex-convict husband is none other than the devastatingly handsome Harry Connick Jr. whose versatile life leaves us at a blank if he was an actor who became a singer or a singer who became an actor. Regardless he does them both well, and with a brawny new physique to top that.
Now, on to the good part. Yes, the BEST part. After a sweaty night between the sheets, the “bugs” appear. What bugs you ask? I really can’t say, neither can Agnes or Peter. “It’s really small. Well, I guess. What is that? It’s a fucking bug. Well I know that, but what kind of bug? An aphid. An aphid? An Aphid, it’s like a…uh-umm… A bed bug? Uh, no…yea…kinda more like a louse. Louse? Oh, lice. No, not like head lice, like plant lice. Oh like termite. No, that’s more like a tripe. A tripe? A termite. You mean tick? No, a tick’s like a flea, a tripe’s like a termite. What’s a bed bug like? A bed bug. No, I mean what is a bed bug? A bed bug. I thought that was a nickname. This is an aphid. Plant lice? I think so…” And from there things turn for the worse. I have never in my life so many times covered my mouth in disbelief. The chaotic spiral staircase of the human psyche spins so quickly out of control so fast that it’s amazing. Peter is no longer timid or careful with his words, but is erratic, delusional, and obscenely destructive to himself and it’s excruciating to watch. Agnes, though never mentally unsound spins right along Peter without missing a beat.
Ultimately they both see, feel, smell, and hear these “aphids” that have invaded their bodies and come to a conclusion that they only would make the most sense, a sense of comfort in their private hells. All in all, I think “Bug” was a great movie, a contained and the most intimate version of the 1990’s movie “Jacob’s Ladder”, a poetic story of a