Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Canada/United Kingdom, 1996. Alliance Communications Corporation, , Recorded Picture Company, Téléfilm Canada. Screenplay by David Cronenberg, based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. Cinematography by Peter Suschitzky. Produced by David Cronenberg. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by Carol Spier. Costume Design by Denise Cronenberg. Film Editing by Ronald Sanders. Cannes Film Festival 1996.
J.G. Ballard’s original novel, set in the London of the seventies, has been moved to modern day Toronto with James Spader giving a deliciously subtle performance as Ballard’s alter-ego protagonist (to whom the author even gave his own name). David Cronenberg has taken Ballard’s near-formless meditation on sex and car crashes and fashioned a strong narrative for this always interesting exploration of the meaning of sex in an age of technology: if we don’t need it for procreation anymore, what’s it there for? Spader and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) are tortured by that question as they try to breathe life into their dampened sex life, taking it as far as joining a cult of people fascinated by the connection between intercourse and auto-mechanics, led by the mysterious and sexy Vaughan (Elias Koteas). A surprisingly dull Holly Hunter plays Spader’s other companion in his journey through this obscure nightmare, featuring dialogue that is at times unbelievable in its erotic eloquence (when it’s not just plain ridiculous), but with all the controversy that surrounded the film upon its original release, it is forever a must-see experience. Peter Suschitzky’s photography is gorgeous, giving the whole thing a look like it’s reflecting off the metallic chrome of a new car, and Rosanna Arquette‘s scenes as bionically-recreated crash victim Gabrielle are the film’s best. Unger is also excellent as Catherine, a woman who is perturbed by nothing–she can hardly stifle a yawn when something kinky happens (like her husband leaving her alone to go have sex with Koteas after she just did it with him herself), and something about her detachment is really thrilling. Unsettling for some, this is not for all tastes, especially for anyone turned off by massive sexual content (though there is an edited R-rated version that Cronenberg insists makes no sense).