Monday, November 18, 2013

Adore: Trapped in Paradise

(Spoiler alert!)

One of my favorite scenes in Anne Fontaine’s film, Adore, is when Saul, Lil’s (Naomi Watts) dogging admirer, shows up uninvited and unannounced at her home. Roz (Robin Wright) is there. Saul is trying to have an intimate conversation with Lil, who has been avoiding both Saul and his affection for the whole film. There’s a stunning moment after Saul declares his undying love, when the two women, who have been friends all their lives, simply look at each other. No words are exchanged. The two actresses carry the communication off perfectly. Their eyes lock, then move, then move again, ever so slightly. As someone who has had that kind of communication, I was thrilled. And, I was thrilled again by Saul’s reaction. “Oh, I see! So, that’s how it is!” Saul’s undying love promptly dies. The two women are grateful to be mistaken for lesbians, considering what’s really going on, and they allow Saul to keep his misconception. They have a good laugh at his expense. (I also love the way Naomi pronounces “Saul.” Her attitude has such a lovely sneer to it.)

For me, that silent moment between the women defines the film.

Saul just doesn’t get it. In fact, no one does. Except the four people involved.

Let’s just put the sex aside for a moment. Even before the boys were grown, the four people, Lil and her son, Ian, Roz and her son, Tom, are in their own world. Another great silent scene shows the four standing together in their mourning clothes after Lil’s husband dies. Roz’s husband is looking on from the window as the two women and their sons mourn quietly together, gazing out at the endless blue sea which is their great comfort zone, symbolized by the raft to which they all continuously swim where they can float and simply be.

The film begins with Lil and Roz as little girls, bursting with life, breathlessly giddy with running and then swimming effortlessly to this raft, where they have a stash of treasures, one of which is a flask of liquor. There, the two little girls drink of the forbidden alcohol and get a bit high on the day and on themselves.

That’s it. They are high on themselves.

It’s happened before. Blue Lagoon. Again, sex aside - remember the part where the two young parents decide to turn their backs on the rescuing ship and return to their island life with their new baby? In Out of Africa, where natives said that white people went quite mad from the altitudes of Kenya, the expats created their own kingdom. Cheri – why, oh, why couldn’t Lea and Cheri just be together? I mean, as a prostitute, Lea lived in an alternate reality where she could have made her own rules. No, instead, the prostitutes pretended they were respectable. It simply wasn’t done. Cheri had to marry and Lea had to be alone. Right, that worked.

In real life -The Brontës had it. The Alcotts had it.

Of course, having it means that you cannot exist outside of it. The air outside of the small kingdom by the sea in Adore is not breathable for the four main characters. They tried it. Thinking they should, two young men actually broke out of their dream life, went out into the “real world” and married women their own age. The part of the film I hate ensues – I like to call it – the monkeys. I fast-forward through monkeys. (Like Julie and Julia – anything that’s not about Julia Child’s life is about the monkeys. I fast-forward through it. They should have just made a biography of Julia Child. But, I digress.)

Now, let’s talk about the sex. Here’s where most people bring their own children into the discussion. Why? “I would never do such a thing!” Of course you wouldn’t and you’re missing the point. You and your children are not in this story.

At the risk of being too simplistic - Sex is a natural part of the natural life. I could watch this movie all day if these healthy, beautiful characters only ate and drank, laughed and danced, swam and surfed, and slept chastely. I am a voyeur of life. The sex is a part of that. But, no more important to me than the whole natural way of life portrayed in the film, a way of life – sans sex with a friend’s son - I would adore.

Adore is a heightened reality. The cinematography portrays a sunny, stunningly blue world. The air is brightly fair or misty blue. Critics have wondered if the raft is symbolic of the womb. Sure, if you could stay in the womb. I think the raft is a symbol of their isolation. For me, the ocean is a sort of womb that you can stay in. The ocean creates the life they live. Surfing alone is an insular life in which surfers must concentrate their entire beings around the waves; they must become one with the ocean in order to ride its back successfully. The four are creatures of the natural world and cannot leave it for long, except for short bursts of work. (The Brontës also suffered when they left each other for the outside world. The Alcotts brought choice persons from the outside world into their inner one.) Lil and her son work at a yachting company. Roz runs an art gallery. Tom is a director of plays. By the way, in reality, those are the jobs that are in paradise! Some critics have also suggested that the four need to “grow up,” “move on,” “get with the program.” Ah, no, actually that’s the point. They have already arrived. The four are in Heaven. There’s nowhere else to go. When Roz’s husband wants her to put paradise behind to follow him to his new job in Sydney, he feels he is a traitor. “No one thinks that, Harold!” is her reply. But, she and her son simply cannot leave.

There's also a bit of The Garden of Eden to the situation, like Eve and her sons. Or Mount Olympus, two goddesses discussing the "young gods" they have created.

The only thing I don’t understand is the title. Yes, the two women adore their sons. And, the sons also adore both their mothers and their respective lovers. However, I don’t get the feeling that their adoration is absolute. I think they all have a very clear knowledge of who they are and who their sons and lovers are, faults, weaknesses, strengths, fears, et al.

They all adore paradise.

I think they also know, deep in their hearts, without speaking it, that the four of them are trapped in paradise, as exemplified by the very last scene when all four are stretched out, floating on the raft without relaxing, without smiling, without touching.

©Patricia Goodwin, 2013

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.

Note: This author did not refer to the Doris Lessing short story, The Grandmothers, upon which the film, Adore is supposedly based. She wanted to write about Adore on its own.