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 of a man’s mind, 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 living spaces and blocking to elucidate emotional distance, heighten sexual tension and show enough mystery for suspense to manifest. Writer and director Alice Winocour has created a character study so sensually visual and moody, what transpires can only be described as something purely cinematic.
When we meet the family living in a huge mansion, it’s often in voyeuristic vantage points; Vincent is watching their lives play out from afar, not to be intimately engaged but to become informed and watchful. Vincent, in particular, 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 are in two completely different rooms. Winocour has compartmentalized the mansion’s living spaces into prisons of taboos and repressed desires for Vincent. The variety of subtly revealing outfits, like an unbuttoned blouse or a backless dress, seem to be at the forefront of Vincent’s attention, not to objectify Diane Kruger’s beauty, but to remind us how constrained the character is in his own thoughts. These environments don’t only illuminate a scenario for Vincent but also Jessie, shots of her are mostly constricted within door frames, giving us the impression of captivity.
One of the running complaints for this film, even from the more positive critics, is how the film devolves into a home invasion thriller. Disorder was so satiated with implications and suppressed anger that such a violent release seemed too conventional for a film so artistic and cerebral. Vincent, a psychological wreck, is so distanced from people in general, that—during an excursion to the beach—he meets the come-hither, flirtatious gaze of two women with watchful mistrust. Matthias Schoenaerts, whose performance is the product of his own studies and time spent with veterans, creates his own melancholic vision of PTSD. Outlying his mindset is the specific moment when Jessie asks Vincent if he used to be in the army, his double-meaning answer haunts the film, “I still am.”
Vincent has little control over his mind, he suppresses his impulses by clenching fists and popping pills. The only time he seems truly in control is when he is inflicting violence, protecting Jessie and her son. An intriguing moral dilemma the film introduces is whether Vincent is doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, whether the violence he’s inflicting is truly a selfless act or an act of self-fulfilment. The two passions that define Vincent cannot coexist, his compulsion to commit acts of violence adversely affect his desire to be with Jessie. What Alice Winocour captures in Disorder is a rendezvous, a single moment in time where those two things meet—the only time Vincent can truly be himself and be with the woman he loves. It may be a fantasy, but the place Winocour leaves us in is a place of harsh truths and lingering emotion. Very rarely do we get a movie where our hero is so emotionally naked, stripped bare for everyone to see. It’s Alice Winocour challenging precepts of masculinity, and Schoenaerts testing his own.