Box art for Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus


From the window of her New York apartment, lonely housewife locks eyes with a masked figure on the street, a mysterious new neighbor whose sharp gaze strips the veneer off her tidy reality.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

PAUSE for kids age 16
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
Positive messages
0 out of 5
0 out of 5
5 out of 5

Biopic is smart, but leaves questions unanswered.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that this mature biopic about edgy photographer Diane Arbus isn't for kids. It includes explicit nudity (body parts and full frontal at a nudist community), and some sexual activity. The subjects of Arbus' photos include unusual fringe characters like sex workers, dwarfs, giants, twins, and nudists. Characters discuss adultery, depression, sexual desire, and suicide (one character kills himself); children worry about their mother's absences from home. Characters smoke cigarettes and do plenty of social drinking. Language includes at least five uses of "f--k."

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about Diane's increasing distance from her family as she discovers her art. How does the movie suggest that her conventional existence -- as wife, mother, and assistant in her husband's business -- stifles her creativity? How does Diane learn about herself by meeting people outside her usual frame of reference? What purpose does introducing a fictional character (Lionel) into a biography serve? Why is it important to be able to express yourself creatively? What are your creative outlets?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

Top Critic Reviews

Fresh: Purists will howl at the liberties Shainberg has taken with the facts, but there's a bravery to Fur, an uncompromising commitment to its narrow focus -- of one woman's creative birth -- that rhymes with Arbus's own artistic courage.

- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rotten: If the filmmakers are telling us that Diane's artistic creativity was unleashed by the love of a good freak, then it's a shame. To turn a story so full of good intentions at the beginning into another movie about a woman who is liberated from the chains

- Beverly Berning,, Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fresh: Director Steven Shainberg's long awaited follow-up to his groundbreaking film "Secretary" (2002) is an anti-biopic that dares to read between the lines of its subject's life rather than replay the common knowledge events of photographer Diane Arbus' life.

- Cole Smithey,, Thursday, June 24, 2010

Audience Reviews

2 stars

The title cards before the film warn that this is not an historical biography, but I don't think that disclaimer releases the filmmakers from somehow connecting the main plot points to Arbus's art or artistic mission. What specifically attracts Arbus to the "freaks" she photographs? And what is the connection between these subjects and her trip to the nudist colony, which frames the film? Additionally, the film offers a half-hearted criticism of how women were treated in the fifties, and of course, the criticism is warranted. But the "patriarchal" husband is certainly more supportive than William H. Macy's character in Pleasantville ("Where's my dinner?"). I might have missed something (because the DVD skipped in the middle of the film), but from the best that I could tell, Allan Arbus was not terribly oppressive. So, at the film's conclusion, Kidman's character doesn't earn our sympathy, and the tribute to her estranged husband at the end falls flat. Overall, the performances were good. Perhaps it's my ignorance of Arbus's work, but the film does nothing to connect a very basic story to an "extraordinary" artist.

- hunterjt13, Thursday, August 26, 2010

4 stars

Brilliant Movie that makes you think after watching it.

- ScoopOnline, Tuesday, December 15, 2009

3 stars

Diane Arbus is a fascinating artist. A single one of her photographs can awaken and excite dozens of feelings, questions, curiosities going in all different directions. I remember seeing some of her photographs at the pompidou a while ago without even having heard her name ever before, and being very intrigued by them. Obviously, the writers of Fur understood the enigmatic character that permeates Arbus's work and came up with this imaginary biopic. This is a fictional account of how Diane went from being a dissatisfied, restless housewife and assistant of her husband's photostudio, to an independent, bold artist. Die-hard fans of Arbus can either love or detest this idea. Personally, and in a very psychodynamic attitude of mine, I prefer to think of this all as a metaphor of an internal transgression of hers. I think it's evident that she, at some point, had to take a step to break free of convention and into the lifestyle that would become her signature. A mysterious man moves into Diane's building, where she and her husband not only live but have a commercial photography studio. Diane is immediately intrigued by this individual. Her repressed tendencies towards the seedy and the freaky begin to surface. When she finally finds the courage to meet him, and surrenders to the pleasure of being frightened, she begins to change, to experiment, and surround herself with people and environments that make her happy, but which prove scary to her family, and of which they all disapprove. I can't say much for Nicole Kidman. She plays in the same, generic soft spoken way that has become her habit. A few inspired moments are not entirely her responsibility, they just happen to fit into her mold. When, of course, she should adapt herself to the script. Robert Downey Jr. plays the mysterious neighbor: a character that could've been, and to a lot of people is, ridiculous. The fact that he actually gave a good performance, being both charming and obscene, through a cape of fur is admirable and it's one of the things I enjoyed the most about the film. The art direction, the cinematography, and the director's slow, contemplative pace benefited the film tremendously. I think the filmmakers had the necessary awareness of Diane Arbus's meticulous cool approach to translate it onscreen. The hushed, understated soundtrack, the warm/cold palette and careful composition also add visual charm that may, at times, make up for weak points of a story that lacks credibility (although we ought to expect that, since this is an imaginary portrait) and a strong lead performance. I have seen Fur more than once and not because of Diane Arbus, but because of these outstanding visuals. Fur was never going to be a commercial success. It wasn't. The director should've foreseen this and refrained from casting Nicole Kidman -assuming he did it to give his film more publicity and increase the sales-. A more versatile actress than Kidman, which could have been basically anyone, would've given this movie, maybe, the extra strength it needs. Unfortunately, without that push, Fur borders on mediocrity. Unless you are visually enamored with it like I was, or unless you find something in the fairy tale to hook you, you might be disappointed. Still, I think, it meant well, and as an exercise it's intereting enough.

- ebs90, Sunday, April 5, 2009