“I try to find something to love in everybody. Even if it’s a small thing.”
When a woman suspects her husband of being a serial adulterer, she turns to an attractive young call girl to confirm her suspicions.
Directed by Atom Egoyan (Exotica, Where the Truth Lies), Chloe is the 2009 erotic thriller starring Julianne Moore as Dr. Catherine Stewart, Liam Neeson as David Stewart, and Amanda Seyfried as Chloe.
It’s no surprise to learn that Egoyan’s Chloe is based on a French film (Nathalie). This type of lurid eroticism is risky for the American film going public who – if you take a hard look at box office receipts – tends to favor PG and PG-13 films over anything even remotely (for lack of a better word) adult. That’s why, when a film like Chloe finally comes around, it can never really live up to anyone’s expectations. As Americans, we are damnably Puritanical – especially when it comes to depictions of sex and sexuality – and our taste in film only helps to solidify that fact.
At the premiere of Chloe, director Egoyan described his film as “complex. It’s edgy. It takes risks.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but, unlike some critics, I enjoy Chloe – as an indulgence, not as a work of art. There’s a difference, you see. I went into watching Chloe knowing I’m getting what’s been more or less referred to as the lesbian equivalent of Fatal Attraction. As such, I got what I expected – some extremely explicit girl-on-girl action between Moore and Amanda Seyfriend (which the actress described as “scary” – see video below), and someone dies at the end. I wasn’t disappointed.
But, for those not in the know, expecting to see some high drama piece starring Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson, well, I can empathize with the disappointment. However, I think most of the critical failure Chloe has had to endure rests on the shoulders of its audience and not with the cast’s performances.
Here’s a news flash: Chloe is not all about sex. It calls to mind the Oscar Wilde quote: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
After seeing Chloe a few times, there are other things to notice besides the intricately intimate relationship between Catherine (Moore) and Chloe (Seyfried). For instance, the importance of clothes.
I’m smiling as I type this because out of all of the movies I’ve seen over the years, it’s strange to call out wardrobe as a highlight of a film that isn’t a period drama. But, with Chloe it’s unavoidable. Clothing plays a major role in Egoyan’s film about relationships, desire, and trust.
As Catherine’s world is turned upside down, so too is the way she relates to her own body. As she finds herself turning to Chloe for help, she unbuttons her coat from bottom to top. As Catherine goes further into the rabbit hole, the scarves she wears become increasingly longer and more difficult to unwind from around her neck, suffocating her.
It isn’t until the women shed their armor, so to speak, that they truly seem to be themselves, no longer fettered by the bonds that externally define who they are.
I am strangely fascinated by Moore’s character, a Toronto-based gynecologist. That Catherine has “forgotten” how to seduce her longtime husband because she no longer sees a 19-year old in the mirror, but a middle aged mother, is slightly distressing. Especially coming from someone who looks like Julianne Moore and who has the brains of a doctor.
Strange, too, is how her work has made sex rather banal. As she describes to a professional dancer who has just professed her confusion and distress around sex and sexuality, Moore’s Catherine says an orgasm is just a series of contractions – nothing more. For Catherine, there is no longer any magic. For Catherine, it is a matter of biology.
Before Chloe goes completely off the rails during the final act, there is a palpable sense of want in Moore’s performance. She is vulnerable, defensive. From Chloe’s perspective, Catherine is an easy – if not moving – target.
Catherine’s desire for her husband is easily stirred as the young woman describes, in detail, the things she has done with him. And because everything is being relayed through Chloe, a young woman whose intentions and motivations are relatively unknown to the audience, we are left to wonder what’s real. This, in and of itself, is a type of seduction – not only of Catherine, but of the audience.
There is a sad sense of isolation in Egoyan’s Chloe. He seems to enjoy placing his characters into shots where they are surrounded, but alone. All of the characters in the film seem to be in varying states of transition – either just having parted or come together.
What’s missing is a sense of connection. A fatal flaw in a film that should be charged with emotion and personal relationships. A simple, if not subtle fix, would have been to show that Catherine and her husband, David, had ever been happy, or close. In this case, it’s simply not enough to talk about it.
How could Egoyan have shown it? Simple. Here’s one of several quick, effective mechanisms – use a quick pan of a wall with photos from their life. Nothing says, “we love each other” more than dozens of portraits of a couple holding one another, smiling, through the years. In the absence of this proof, the proof that this couple was ever happy, I am left to wonder if any of it matters. Anything would have been more substantial than the brief “what happened to us” scene between Neeson and Moore in David’s office.
Some people hate the ending of Chloe. Not me. Initially, I slapped the sofa and was pissed, but the longer I thought about it, the more I liked it. The whole affair of Chloe is sticky. It’s never an easy decision to kill off your characters, so it helps to look at the ending of Chloe as a metaphor. Chloe chooses to let go of Catherine. Catherine, on the other hand, chooses to hold on (note Chloe’s silver hairpin in Catherine’s hair).
Watch it. Talk about it. After all, according to Chloe, nothing’s sexier than a little conversation.
Chloe & Catherine: A Short Film (by Eberhardt61):
Amanda Seyfried on her scenes with Julianne Moore:
Julianne Moore & Amanda Seyfriend on Chloe:
Wiki facts: Chloe
Is Chloe rotten or fresh?
How did Chloe do at the box office?
Watch or buy Chloe on Amazon
Related: Daily News says Chloe is tacky…