Monday, August 6, 2012

Savages Offers Little Resolution

A bit late to the party, I went to see Savages over the weekend, an uber-violent Oliver Stone film that intrigued me mostly because the primary romantic relationship in the movie was a menage. While I was pretty sure the menage was there for titillation, I was really interested to see how menage would be portrayed in a film currently out in mainstream release (obviously, there have been other films that included menage -- Doom Generation and Threesome spring to mind, and I'm sure there have been more). Though it's been done before, I wanted to see what I could glean about possible current societal attitudes toward sex. (Note: I'm going to talk freely about the movie, without regard to spoilers.)

The film definitely played the titillation. Though I don't find menage shocking, I suppose I was there for the titillation, too.

The reason the female narrator gives for the menage is that, between the two men, she nets one perfect man (summarized by lines like "Chon fucks. Ben makes love."). There are some cringe-inducing lines (such as, about war-veteran Chon: "I have orgasms. Chon has wargasms."). But overall, the premise seems to be these are three wounded people who need each other to be whole. They are all home for each other.

She acknowledges societal attitudes ("I know what you're thinking: Slut."), but then justifies her actions somewhat defensively with the argument about wholeness and home.

Soon, this female narrator is kidnapped by a drug cartel, and her two men are desperate to rescue her -- to the point that they get their hands dirty in ways that go far beyond any of their previous misbehavior.

The main problem I had with the movie was that it didn't really settle most of the questions it raised about the relationship. In a scene that I think was supposed to be significant, Salma Hayek's character, Elena Lopez, leader of the drug cartel, tells the narrator, "There's something wrong with your love story, baby." She goes on to say that the two men can't really love her as much as they love each other -- "or else they wouldn't share you." The way the scene was shot, I believed this raised questions for the narrator, maybe even shook her faith in her way of life. However, it's never spoken of again and never clearly resolved. To be clear, it's OK with me if the narrator ultimately decides to shake off the question. But the shot didn't read confidence to me. It read confusion, and then it was dropped.

The ending is even worse. What I first saw seemed like a classic punishment ending to me (where everyone dies in a sort of metaphorical and spiritual payback for their effort to live outside of society, sinning with respect to both sex and drugs). After Ben is mortally wounded in the process of trying to save the female narrator, the narrator and Chon kill themselves so they don't have to leave him. This happens amid carnage in which pretty much everyone else dies, too. I was a little annoyed by the punishment ending, largely because it seemed like a huge copout -- a way to not address, for example, the issues raised in the scene above (or raised by Ben's fall from innocence over the course of the movie, or raised by the female narrator's rape during her imprisonment, or any number of things).

But this proved to be a minor annoyance in the face of the utter copout to come -- because that wasn't the real ending. The narrator says that ending represents the way she imagined it would go down, and then the audience is presented with a fantasy ending -- one where everything works out fine, the three end up hidden away on an island somewhere, and everything rings equally false and is left equally unresolved.

This is one way to handle controversial material, I suppose -- use it for titillation, and then avoid making any sort of statement about it. I was pretty disappointed that the film pretended to engage with some sexual issues, but ultimately turned away from the debate. By providing two endings, Savages essentially provided no ending.

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