There is a school of thought — held by Pedro Almodóvar, among others — that says the reason many mainstream Hollywood movies are so unsatisfying ultimately comes down to their lack of sex: With one of humanity’s primary emotional drives shorn off, their characters feel flat; childlike, even. I tend to agree, but I would love to know what Almodóvar makes of Tom Hooper’s Cats, a film that must have been created as a fetish object for shadowy elites with singular tastes, but has accidentally been released into the wider world. Every frame of the picture pulses with sexual energy, but it is not a sexuality you or I or even furries would recognize. Under Hooper’s eye, every single body part of these unholy half-felines is treated like an erotic talisman. Think of the care that used to go into shooting sex scenes in movies like 9 ½ Weeks, then port that same energy into musical numbers filled with digitally augmented cat-people, and you will get a sense of the body horror spurred by witnessing these misbegotten creations — neither all man, nor all cat, but an unsettling blend of both, a beast God forgot to invent.
But of all the jellicle heads, shoulders, knees, and toes, which causes the most existential vexation? By the power vested in me by the many alcoholic drinks I have been driven to consume since I saw this movie, here is a rundown of the most grotesque body parts in Cats.
We must begin with the secondary sex characteristic that caused all that consternation over the summer. I recall even in those early days the mewing sheep of the comments section: The cats in the musical had boobs, too, what’s the big deal? Let us get these concerns out of the way early. The breasts in Cats the musical did not offend the senses, because the leotards and makeup of the performers allowed their basic person-ness to shine through, thus making other aspects of their anatomy far less jarring. Not so in Cats the movie, where the cats are just catlike enough for their human elements to seem like unwelcome visitors — the visual equivalent of smelling a fart during a moment of erotic fantasia. And there are no ruffles or sparkles to helpfully obscure: Here many of the chestier performers are fully exposed, except for the fact that they’re covered in perfectly photorealistic hair. (This applies to the guys, as well; I’ve obtained an unwelcomely intimate knowledge of every bulge and crevasse in Idris Elba’s distinctly unfeline torso.) Eventually you start to notice how many characters have been granted jackets and coats, the better to protect them from the camera’s all-seeing gaze. If only everyone wore them. Give me the version of Cats sponsored by Canada Goose!
I could possibly handle the butts. I could possibly handle the tails. But what I absolutely cannot deal with is the butts in combination with the tails — eerily tumescent probosces emerging just above the cleft of each performer’s finely honed ass, like an anglerfish but in reverse. One character, Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, wears pants, but this does not make things better. In fact it makes them worse, for the pants have a tiny hole just beneath the waist to allow his tail to poke through. This brings to mind the sort of perverse sexual practice one develops a taste for at certain English public schools.
An unconventional choice, yes, but once you notice them you can’t look away.
In his story “Dreams in the Witch House,” virulent racist H.P. Lovecraft wrote of a betwixt-and-between creature called Brown Jenkin, a rodent-like familiar whose “sharp-toothed, bearded face was evilly human while its paws were like tiny human hands.” Those hands have been cruelly reborn on the wrists of the cats in Cats, so they can terrify a new generation. The hands are covered in fur, yet have the fine wrinkles of human palms. A regular cat can only reach out and press; these cats clutch objects in their disgusting little nubs in a manner than can only be described as “grubby.” But worst of all, these cats have human fingernails, an image that makes me shudder instinctively for reasons no modern tongue could fully elucidate. Only Jennifer Hudson was merciful enough to wear fake nails, which are just claw-like enough to dissipate the ill feeling brought about by these blasphemous digits.
The competition for the most distressing aspect of the cats’ faces is particularly intense. Is it the way the texture of the fur fades away in a smooth gradient around their features, leaving only cat-colored skin? Is it their impossibly plump lips? Is it the way their faces wobble around the middle of their heads, leaving the impression the entire movie is just a particularly expensive piece of deepfake pornography? Or is it their human noses, which have been relatively unaltered, save the merest photoshopping of a pink tint on the underside of the nostrils — thus giving the impression of a werewolf forever caught in the middle of its transformation. At one point, a cat drinks milk out a saucer and its nose gets into the liquid. I can’t explain how gross this is, except to say that if you’ve ever accidentally put your lips to the nozzle of a water fountain, you will understand.
If you thought the fingers were bad, let me introduce you to the toes: ten little hair-covered cocktail weiners. It’s so upsetting that, whenever he can, Hooper puts the cats in shoes in hope of averting further walkouts. (A colleague also speculates that Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina wears heels as a way of keeping the singer’s feet off fetish sites, which if it is true, my compliments to Tree Paine.)
“It’s just fur, how gross could it be?” — words that could only be spoken by someone who has not seen Cats. Consider the moral and ethical questions raised by the frequency with which the cats wear fur coats on top of their actual fur. Are the coats made of their own fur, or someone else’s? But before you can give this topic the multiple hours of mulling over it deserves, the movie has delivered its most unsettling sight: Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots unzipping her body to reveal a second body underneath — and this body has clothes on!!!!!!! When I am 80 years old and have been driven to madness by multiple viewings of Cats, this is the moment I will mutter about until the end of my days. She had skin under her skin, and the new skin wore clothes. The new skin wore clothes. The new skin wore clothes!
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