ON AROUSAL AND USELESSNESS IN ‘THE SCARY OF SIXTY-FIRST’

ENOUGH SENSE TO GET OUT OF THE RAIN & INTO THE BLUE-STRIPED TEMPLE

“Don’t you feel like you can take on the world?
You ain’t worried ’bout nobody sneak dissin”‘ – Rae Sremmurd

“We’ll make Heaven a place on Earth” – Belinda Carlisle

When all the gods in heaven are dragged down to the surface of this profane earth, in the guise of celebrities, politicians, and the beyond-rich, mortals are tempted to see themselves as middle management to the divine. This soulless endeavor is vapid, yet filled with a burning rage that sets no one on fire but the useless onlookers themselves. It is worship by a million screaming voices on social media, desperately trying to extinguish the entire cosmos through just the right pompous assemblage of a single sentence. It is an act of sacrilege, assuming the power of God’s word and barfing it into a “What’s Happening?” prompt.

Some are not satisfied with simpleton-level false god antics and go deeper; their search for spiritual balance turns to classic forms. Greek mystery cults are reborn on Reddit to aid in the understanding of global conspiracy, magic, and perversion; mystery cults that form a sort of common-man mirror to the World Bank Illuminati, the Clinton family of lizard demons, and, in the case of The Scary of Sixty-First, Jeffrey Epstein’s underage sex trafficking. But The Scary of Sixty-First is not in pursuit of righteousness, nor of decoding the mystery. It is not a look directly into the eyes of Epstein nor the collective consciousness of Reddit. Rather, it is here to be fun. And it knows exactly why.

Much as Reddit conspiracy theorists can be seen as participating in a classic form in order to understand ultimate global trash, The Scary of Sixty-First is assembled from a well-chosen set of respected allusions. Allusions to art-horror film staples like Possession (1981), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and most explicitly, Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Dismissing this as mere fan worship or some attempt to cheaply be placed in the same echelon as those films misses the point. The Scary of Sixty-First is an object lesson, displaying a sort of “because it is fun” reverence/vandalism duality which parallels the reasons it posits for people obsessing over Epstein. Allusion does not allow a work of art to change that which it refers to, but it does create a sandbox to play in and build a new fantasy. In the same way, people cannot change or influence what these gods-dragged-to-earth are doing, yet the appeal of indulging in the fantasy of it is irresistible. This use of classic films, all praised for their deft handling of contemporary topics while still remaining politically vague, is a wise move for constructing an Epstein fantasy so shortly after he became a mainstream news point. This film feels like something that couldn’t exist until at least ten years from now, with its ability to ignore being topical and instead present a story about human experience unafraid of “too soon” critiques (all of which are rendered meaningless once art outlives soon-ness anyway).

There are dream states all three protagonists exist in. Dreams that only make sense when seen as embracing the fantasies which Epstein introduced into the world ~ a new specific cultural mythology of demonically taboo sexuality; putting pleasure far above commonly accepted ethics. Noelle (Madeline Quinn) and “the girl” (Dasha Nekrasova) seek something about the Epstein cult, but that aspiration has no name or form. Their bursts of outrage are more about building their own bond as friends and lovers than attempting to cause any sort of damage to the invincible. Despite their anti-Epstein stance, the most focused moments of their obsession feel like they are participants in the sex cult itself. Auto-erotic strangulation and lesbian experimentation provide a visceral, comprehendible manifestation of their fantasy; The Scary of Sixty-First is not afraid to play these moments for arousal. It makes their Epstein cosplay fun. The film even doubles down on this by putting these scenes directly before a depiction of vanilla sex which is simply, a boner killer.

The third woman of the apartment, Addie (Betsey Brown), doesn’t seek out an Epstein fantasy and yet is the most deeply controlled by it. Perhaps by magic, dark science, or just her own desperation to never be alone, Addie gives the viewer an Isabelle Adjani in Possession performance, tailored to this new context perfectly. While Adjani’s portrayal is often spoken of with this high brow praise for being that of a “true actor,” Brown’s performance is just as unhinged while revealing what art snobs are avoiding saying: “It’s hot.” And, because this film knows exactly what it is doing, there is just enough humor to it to pull off finger banging the initials “J.E.” on the side of a building and not seem completely slapstick. This sort of humor loops back at the end of the film, crescendoing into a twisted, comedic horror as the women are finally violently consumed by their obsession in a room manifesting the same blue stripes as Epstein’s infamous sex temple.

All three women, willingly or not, find themselves not just defined by Epstein but becoming the stars of this mystery. It seems to ask, “Do people obsess over conspiracy not just to understand or even defeat it (whatever that means), but to become a part of it?” If the gods now have human form, can we not join them? Or, at least, is there more joy in the fantasy of being a part of mythological-level sin than sitting around complaining? This is, of course, the great concern of recent waves in liberal rhetoric; that people cannot be trusted to be good in the end. It is a sort of fear embodied in the often quoted “Nothing is real, everything is permitted” sans William Burroughs’ wise addendum, “Not to be interpreted as an invitation to all manner of unrestrained and destructive behavior, that would be a minor episode, which would run its course.” But while The Scary of Sixty-First can’t help but invoke contemplations like this, the naive simplicity of its title shouldn’t be overlooked. The primary suggestion of this film is that we all could use a little more looking at the fun in life, even in its shadows.

Commenting on Epstein directly, or some sort of related ethical position would be dead-end self-righteousness. At the top of film’s priorities, it is entertainment. Just beneath that, it reminds the viewer that everyone participates in the obsession over the profane gods because we all want taboo-crossing fantasy. Epstein’s sex cult in particular would seem to only have one way, ultimately, to contemplate it ~ as a sort of quasi-member seeking the realization of sin transcendence just like those elites directly involved. Does that make everyone bad people? Who knows. Does it mean that the core traits of humanity are deeply disturbing? Again, who knows. That is why these are the mysteries. Humanity has been contemplating them through every civilization. As contemporary a struggle as social media life is, classic forms still persist. We can only hope that we have some fun as technology gives us more and more information about this world of atrocity. There are countless ways to seek salvation. If outrage isn’t finding the divine path, who is to shame you for trying something else. Something that makes you smile. But don’t go around sex trafficking kids. That is demon garbage.