I was dissapointed when this movie came on at about 2 AM on Showtime the other night- I was expecting more nudity. But seriously, Soderbergh's maiden voyage as a filmmaker has a lot of really interesting things to say in terms of how his predictions have played out. To wit: Michel Foucault has become a dominant figure in the academy because of how effective his theories of power and normalization have predicted the development of the ideas of medicine and sexuality in modern society. I conjure this thought because of a Slate article I read the other day- there was an article entitled "Feminism Makes You Unhappy", and linked at the bottom was a fascinating discussion of pornography and its function in society. One major argument made related to antecdotal stories about how many individuals in today's society find themselves unable to achieve climax unless they are consuming pornographic materials instead of actually experiencing sex with a real life partner.
I think Soderbergh has powerfully predicted this development. While its true that pornography and its resultant saturation of society with concepts of objectification were present in 1989, the Internet really has changed these dynamics because of how it bombards us with these images and how it makes them accessible anytime anywhere (the recent spate of pornographic images on video iPods seems evident in regards to this point). The has four central characters- John, Ann, Cynthia, and Graham. The names are intentionally vanilla- I believe the point is that what we are witnessing are four normal modes of sexuality that the viewer will intially encode as deviant or foolish, but will eventually come to understand. John is married to Ann, but is sleeping with Cynthia, who is Ann's sister. Ann does not care about sex, telling her therapist early in the film that it is overrated. Graham, a quiet, creepy soul is an old friend of John's who moves in for a bit, and is impotent- he can only be aroused by videotapes he makes of women talking about sex.
None of the characters can just come home from a long day at the office and screw. Graham is into video voyeurism. John must sneak around behind his wife's back. Cynthia must overplay her sexuality at every turn, seeking encounters with any men available. Ann just isn't interested. I think we can read a thoroughgoing critique of several aspects of modern society into the film. John is the hypercapitalist yuppie (but instead of like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho a book written around when this movie was made, he gets his jollies with silent emotional violence instead of knives- but its still consumption that drives his desire). Cynthia is the figure who has naively embraced the liberative strains of the 1960's only to use them as tools to enact petty vengeance against her more popular, more beautiful sister. Ann is seen at a therapist several times in the movie, and this is the criticism of cold rationality- she has overthought environmental concerns like recycling instead of contemplating her own personal desires, and her need to find salvation in a therapist is just another faith in an external actor to provide her deliverance. Graham is the only character in touch with his real desires- but he still comes off as creepy. He is willing to admit he has a serious problem however- unlike the other three characters. "I have many problems...but they belong to me" he says.
The movie is constructed to make us sympathize with Ann and Graham- Ann because she seems like a good person, and Graham because he knows what he does is bad but at least is so much more cognizant of his failings than John or Cynthia. Late in the movie Graham has a dramatic break with his destructive consumption, and Ann is able to see that her obsession with status and perfection has been the cause of her unhappiness. Its the human connection made through conversation between Graham and Ann that makes it possible for both of them to throw off their shackles.
Here at Wake every student has a laptop and they are always on them. We have a big debate team and the squad room is frequently full of 15-2o people. And is often silent, except for the sound of typing. Everyone is communicating with each other via instant messaging technology, or looking at article, or listening to music. Everyone is in their own little enclave and only communicates via computer. Its really pretty weird. I think Soderbergh is getting at how we need to really communicate. For Graham, the biggest turn on is getting to hear a woman's secret. But at the end of the day, he and Ann are both willing to be turned on by their own shared humanity. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, for it is late.
I found much to recommend in this movie. The acting is excellent, particularly from James Spader in a very early role.