August 3, 2010 § 2 Comments
I’m still trying to understand what I feel about Chloe. It didn’t help that the cinema was filled with children who couldn’t have been older than 15 and who couldn’t handle a single intimate scene without snorting, giggling or whooping (I suppose a film with an SG-18 rating is the ultimate in naughtiness, especially in the middle of a weekend afternoon at the mall). It didn’t help that these highly-excitable children talked loudly throughout the entire movie, but especially during the quiet moments of dialogue. It didn’t help that the girl next to me had smelly feet and that she removed her shoes. Possibly, the movie itself just felt wrong. Julianne Moore gave excellent performance, and Amanda Seyfried gave a decent one. And these performances seemed to strive for something raw and real, and were at odds with the artificial, expressly-manipulative look, feel, and tone of the movie.
Before I go any further, I must warn you that this post has SPOILERS! LOTS OF ‘EM!
(not a spoiler, yet) Chloe is a remake of the French movie Nathalie, which I have not seen.
NOW! REAL! SPOILERS!!!
I’ve seen reviews that trashed Moore’s performance, but I really felt that she dug deep into that abyss of numb horror that most women experience when they realise that the man they still love and desire may still love them in return – only it’s a companionable love minus the desire. It’s a genuine and at times brutal performance but one that still frustrates, as Moore – undoubtedly a beautiful woman – walks around moping about not being able to hold her husband’s attention or stimulate his desire and sustain it forever. It’s hard to fully immerse yourself in world, even if it’s only a fictitious one on celluloid, where someone with Moore’s beauty is relegated to being an invisible afterthought simply because she’s NOT fresh-faced and nubile.
Anyhow. Julianne Moore plays Catherine Stewart, who suspects her husband (played by Liam Neeson) of having an affair. Her husband is a professor with a confident, debonair air of distinguished good looks and charm – it is a key point later in the movie when Moore’s character tells him that as he only becomes more beautiful with age, and she feels more invisible and unworthy of him as she ages. This premise is played out explicitly throughout the movie, as her husband flirts with younger waitresses who reciprocate by looking at him meaningfully in the eyes and his female students sort of lean forward coquettishly and smile while he’s presenting a lecture. He is meant to be the embodiment of mature masculinity in its prime.
Because, as we all know, men age like fine wine, and women age like… bread.
So it should not surprise me, really, that Moore’s character, beautiful as she is, is rarely put into contact with men who want her or desire her or stare at her from across the street. Her sexual focus, in all its confusion and jitteriness, is wholly centred on her husband.
Because, as we all know, married men are tempted and like beautiful, young things, while married women only want to sleep with their husband. And because young girls and women are tempted by married men, but no boy or man is ever attracted to a… married woman? Gone are the days of Mrs. Robinson. In our present culture, the very act of being a woman who ages renders you an immediate abomination. For the love of God, woman, FILL IN THY WRINKLES with Botox!
There is a conversation in the movie that emphasises this marked difference in desirability within the system of marriage, in case you’re dim and you miss the point. When her husband tells her that he’s been tempted so many times but has not done anything about it because of his commitment to their marriage, Moore’s character retorts by saying that she’s “never, ever wanted to be with anybody else”. Her husband accuses her of lying.
But we believe her. Of course we do.
So when Moore’s character ends up having desperate sex with Amanda Seyfried’s Chloe, it’s only inevitable that it’s an expression of misguided and misdirected desire. Her real desire is directed toward her husband; but since she can’t have him, and Chloe gets to fuck him (which we’ll later find out has been a complete lie), she’ll fuck Chloe because she needs it (she hasn’t been touched in so long) and because it’s a way of fucking her husband.
Except in this Fatal Attraction twist, Chloe becomes obsessed with Moore’s character, and starts appearing in her life a little too often. That’s when the movie simply degenerates into a B-grade thriller, only with beautiful cinematography and what would commonly be called “lush scenes”. Lush close-ups of young female flesh, lush close-ups of places and interiors. Lush, lush, lush.
Perhaps it’s not the artificialness of the movie that really bothered me. I think what really bothered me was the movie’s inability to move past prescribed sexual norms and roles. It seems to say that desire only works in constructed, predictable ways: that of a wife for her husband; that of a husband for a variety of women (the younger the better); that of boys for pretty girls; and that of girls for boys with power, money, in order to gain money, attention, or love. I mean, if there was a rule-book on How to Make Sexual Desire Adhere Faultlessly to the Fault Lines of Sexism, this movie adapted its every principle. Everything else is merely accidental. So there’s a soft-core sex scene featuring two women; but their desire for each other is only incendiary as it forces Moore’s character to realise her real desire is for her husband, and for Seyfried’s character to reveal herself as dangerously lonely and unstable. The fact that it could be fun, loving, passionate, or dangerous – a catalyst for the destruction of old relationships and the creation of new ones – well, now that would just be too much. I mean, let’s just focus on the important thing, now: two hot women having sex. Yowza!
That sex scene between Moore and Seyfried is everything one would expect an older man (yes… hello to you, Atom Egoyan) would dream of – two thin, beautiful women in soft lighting; gentle moaning and sighing; everything proper and in its place, and very dainty. There is no chaos or mess. It’s all very polite and well-mannered, really.
It’s almost as if Egoyan read Laura Mulvey and said, a-ha, this is a book on the principles of filmmaking. Right? I will follow her every word. Only, I will subvert it by making the main protagonist a woman – a woman who “others” another woman just like a man would, like that de Beauvoir woman said, and a-ha, won’t those ranting feminists be confused?
When Moore’s character confesses to her husband about having slept with Chloe, there are no repercussions. The husband’s face registers this with only momentary interest – the realm of woman-to-woman desire ostensibly existed only for him, and his wife tells him as much. To be fair to Liam Neeson’s character, he didn’t really have to say or do much. So perhaps he had deep thoughts in his head with regards to his wife’s affair with a young girl. It’s just that we never got to find out.
The sex mattered to Chloe, obviously. But the movie’s almost-end, where Chloe falls to her beautiful, ludicrous, slow-motion death, only serves to undermine Chloe’s sense of desire – in fact, it effectively negates her agency. The movie wants you to know that she was only crazy, you see, and disturbed, and so who knows why the hell she wanted to have sex with a woman? And like, stalk her and shit? Whatever. There’s no back-story to Chloe’s instability; only lots of slow-motion, languorous shots of her porcelain, firm skin and pouty lips and lustrous doe-eyes.
Which is fine, really. I’m sure life’s filled with married women having sex with young girls to get closer to their husbands and young girls having sex older women because they need a mother figure and god knows what else. Who cares, really? Just between women, after all. I mean, I would have been happy if they explored the “sexual desire and insanity, two extremes on the same continuum” theme further and brought Freud into the picture, but nope. So I was little perturbed to learn that the screenplay for Chloe was written by Erin Cressida Wilson, who did Secretary, which I thought was pretty brilliant. But then, that was adapted from a Mary Gaitskill short story, so perhaps all the hard work was already done for her. Wilson certainly falls below the mark here. I know this movie is based on Nathalie, but what’s the point of the remake if you’re only rehashing stereotypical themes that don’t serve any particular purpose?
Unless, you know, Nathalie was actually better than this self-indulgent exercise in superficiality.
[Chloe fails the Bechdel test although it has two female characters who talk to each other. But about 95% of the film is of them talking to each other about a man. The remaining 10% is Julianne Moore’s character telling Amanda Seyfried’s charater, “You’re beautiful. You must know that you’re beautiful. But this has to end, leave us alone.” That counts as a FAIL, right?]