Monday 26 April 2010


“I guess I’ve always been pretty good with words. In my line of business it’s as important to be able to describe what I’m doing, as it is to do what I’m doing. When to say what. What words to select.”

My first reaction, about twenty minutes into this movie, was to declare it a companion piece to “Jennifer’s Body”, a movie I considered going back to after initially finding barely anything salvageable in it. When you get over the awfully artificial vernacular and the fact that Megan Fox is both the worst and most obvious choice for the role of Jennifer, “Jennifer’s Body” is essentially a movie about a teenage girl seen and objectified by everybody else, used and quite literally exploited (as a human sacrifice to success), and in the process turned into a self-empowered monster, feeding off the energy of exactly the same people who’ve lusted after her for years (it is also a twisted tale about an asymmetric, somewhat abusive friendship between two girls, but that’s a different story). “Jennifer’s Body” is about the prize Jennifer pays and the power she gains at the same time.
Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), in her opening monologue, explains that she can become whoever she needs to be. She can obliterate herself by turning into the fantasies of her clients (and disappearing, in a way. She asks Catherine twice if she didn’t see or recognize her in the movie), and she is good at her job because she is able to understand their fantasies. We will never hear her speak to us again; from now on, she tells stories to Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore), therefore becoming her unreliable narrator, while Catherine now takes over the same function for the viewer. It’s her suspecting and mistrusting perspective of her husband David (Liam Neeson) that we see: looks through the transparent walls in her modern house, watching him chat with students, flirt with waitresses. The house and Catherine’s gynaecologist’s practice are in many ways symbolic of the entire movie: they are both almost completely made of glass, yet this transparency does in no way lead to clarity or openness, instead they foster misinterpretations (and there are always dark corners and claustrophobic hallways).
Before Catherine ever talks to Chloe, she sees her from the window of her office with a client. This is how the two women are set up: Chloe, the prostitute who understands the importance of fantasies, Catherine the sober gynaecologist who explains to a patient that orgasms are just muscle contractions and hands her some helpful brochures. They first actually meet in the bathroom of a fancy restaurant. Chloe is upset over a client, Catherine is angry at her husband after he flirted with the waitress, and suspects him to have an affair after finding a suggestive text message from one of his students on his phone.
It’s already clear that this is not a simple “business transaction” (Catherine pays Chloe to flirt with her husband, to see how far he’ll go) when she uses the same pick-up line on Chloe that her husband used on the waitress, but it takes Catherine a while longer until she realizes that this is no longer about being jealous at her husband, but desiring the woman she pays to seduce him. When Chloe tells her about what happened between them, it’s not at all the clinical description that Catherine would expect, but exactly the precise and explicit story Chloe claimed to be able to narrate in the beginning of the movie. The seduction takes place in a literal glass house, and the discovery of a secret room, where Chloe and David are unobserved, is an important part of the story she is telling (“we walked through this big, long corridor, with all these exotic flowers, and there was nobody around / It's like a secret hiding place”). Catherine’s reaction to her husband’s unfaithfulness is odd: instead of being shocked, she is strangely aroused.
At the same time, Catherine is starting to claim Chloe’s body (demanding she proves that she is “clean” before they continue their business arrangement). While she is setting up Chloe to prove that her husband is unfaithful, she is unintentionally starting having an affair (early into the movie, her female friends ask her whether she is seeing anyone but her husband, because she has “affair written all over” her). The twist of the movie is when Catherine is the one who finds herself seduced, even if Chloe first provides her with the license to cheat, telling her that she met David and they did have sex.
Chloe, after she spends the night with Catherine, seems obliviously in love, admitting that she “wanted to meet” Catherine and dropped a barrette in the bathroom where they first met, while Catherine desperately tries to toss her out, finally acting like the “client” she has been all along. She answers “do you want to see me again” with “I’ll see you on the streets”. She hesitates to point out her house, attempting to keep her affair away from her husband. While Catherine tries to sever every connection she has to Chloe (“This business transaction, which is what that was, is over. Now please, you have got to get out of here.”), Chloe manages to invade her life more and more by seducing her teenage son. Finally, at a restaurant, Catherine realizes that her husband has never met Chloe, that everything was a story told to seduce her, that, by trying to prove that her husband was cheating on her, she became the unfaithful one.
"It was confusing. It made me feel closer to you. You become more beautiful every year. Every grey hair, every line, everything that happens to you makes you so much more desirable and I feel like if you would blow on me, I'd vanish, I'd disappear. I felt so invisible, so old. I slept with her.”
In the end, Chloe confronts Catherine by reclaiming her own identity: “Your husband isn't yours. I'm not yours. We're not just here to do as you say when you pay us and when you want us" – ends up crashing through one of the windows of the house.
The grand finale, in which desire ultimately leads to the shedding of blood, naturally brings us back to “Jennifer’s Body”. Chloe, not unlike Jennifer, remains an enigma throughout the movie, as we never know whether she is calculating or genuinely obsessed with Catherine, and in the end, she disappears as suddenly as she entered, leaving the marriage that was almost dead at the beginning of the movie (“when did we stop waiting for each other at the airport?”) more vibrant than she found it. The conclusion is not exactly satisfying (remember, in “Jennifer’s Body”, Needy, after absorbing some of the powers Jennifer had, sets out to avenge her) – but then, the acting and the beautiful frames (note that the wood in the house perfectly matches Julianne Moore’s hair…) make up for it. In conclusion: Like “Jennifer’s Body”, “Chloe” does not fulfil its potential, but at least it has potential.
(also, because this didn’t fit in anywhere in the review, Amanda Seyfried’s acting range is impressive and she isn’t at all overshadowed by Julianne Moore here, and the music is kind of awful.) 
2010, Regie: Atom Egoyan, mit Julianne Moore, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Max Thieriot.

No comments: