Disorder (or its French title, Maryland) seems to be a third in an increasing number of films that feature the talented Belgian star, Matthias Schoenaerts, in physically morose but deeply sympathetic roles of misunderstood tough-guys, tamed by their affection for women. The previous two, released chronologically, are Bullhead (dir. Michaël R. Roskam) and Rust and Bone (dir. Jacques Audiard). Schoenaerts’ predilection for these roles work to his credit—unlike Woody Allen or George Clooney who recycle characters with fuzzy, ill-defined variations—some of the man’s best and most diverse roles are found in emasculating, powerfully muscular, yet deeply flawed men. Disorder is a genre piece, a spin on a classic, borderline clichéd, premise of a bodyguard slowly falling for the woman he’s meant to protect. But the direction and effective camera-work encapsulate a more exciting, erotic spectacle driven by intense paranoia and his lust for a woman.
Schoenaerts’ Vincent is a soldier unable to re-enlist due to his PTSD, so he takes a job as a bodyguard for a Lebanese businessman. In his absence, Vincent becomes a personal bodyguard and chaperone to his wife Jessie (Diane Kruger) and their young son. Little of the plot is revealed but when Vincent overhears the husband talking shady business, he quickly begins to suspect people are following his wife and son when he leaves on a business trip. Plenty of films are described as psychosexual, but Disorder perhaps is the most dedicated in embodying the subgenre. The film often uses lavish spaces to elucidate emotional distance and heighten sexual tension. Writer and director Alice Winocour has embodied an atmosphere so sensual and moody, every moment in Disorder seems to be motivated by an innate sexual cognition.
When we meet the family living in a huge mansion, it’s often in voyeuristic vantage points; Vincent is watching their lives from afar, but not to be intimately engaged but to become informed and watchful of their patterns and habits. Vincent quickly grows fascinated by Jessie, the blonde trophy wife of the wealthy businessman. His first encounters with her are at arm’s length, even when the two share their first bit of dialogue both stand in different rooms. Winocour has compartmentalized the mansion’s living spaces into home-grown cages of taboos and repressed desires. Diane Kruger appears in the film wearing a variety of subtly revealing outfits, Kruger’s skin flirt with the camera, and toys with Matthias Schoenaert’s lustful eyes.
Matthias Schoenaert and Alice Winocour depict Vincent’s PTSD with a thrust of sexual constraint and romantic uneasiness. Winocour is almost baroque and formalist in her design, but she never succumbs to dehumanizing the subject in favor of her artistry. In one scene Jessie asks Vincent if he used to be in the army. “I still am,” Vincent replies. His double-meaning answer is wholly empathetic (if somewhat clichéd and unsubtle). One of the few criticisms for Disorder, even from more optimistic critics, is how the film devolves into a by-the-books home invasion thriller. The general consensus is because Disorder is so satiated with restraint and artsy coolness a straight-up thriller, by comparison, comes off as just too conventional. However, the moody overlay and subtle foreshadow of Disorder showcases Vincent’s repressed aggression in a way that confirms his body’s need for an explosive release. The climax, so-to-speak, is not necessarily Winocour treading typical genre fare, or the filmmaker denying her formalist artiness. Instead, she captures the violent hormonal discharge of a broken individual, too afraid to emote, too shy to relate to another human being. She captures repressed macho-ness in a way that’s too vulgar, in its violent excess to be chivalrous, and too desexualized to be romantic.
Very rarely do we get a movie where our hero is so emotionally naked, stripped bare for everyone to see. Disorder is Alice Winocour challenging our precepts of masculinity and Schoenaerts testing his own. The two collaborate to topple the masculine form from its foundation, and reassemble it to resemble something more vulnerable and human. Disorder is captivating little film. It’s straightforwardness only puts it a couple rungs from Taken (2008) in terms of story. But make no mistake, Disorder is one of the year’s best thrillers. It’s terse, erotic, sophisticated and a virtuoso of psychology-as-cinema.