Saturday, February 07, 2015
Directed by Mike Nichols and written by Jules Feiffer, Carnal Knowledge is the story of two college roommates who both deal with their respective relationships with women in the course of 25 years. The film explores two different men who cope with their love lives as it also has compelling discussions about sex. Starring Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margaret, Candice Bergen, Rita Moreno, Cynthia O’Neal, and Carol Kane. Carnal Knowledge is a provocative and chilling film from Mike Nichols.
The film revolves around the friendship of two college roommates in the late 1940s as they spend the next 25 years dealing with women and the complexities of their relationship. The film reveals the lives of these two different men who both have an urge to sleep with women and such but with different ideas about love. For the introverted Sandy (Art Garfunkel), he just wants to be with a woman and be in a good relationship with sex involved. For the more extroverted Jonathan (Jack Nicholson), it’s all about getting laid as he would also endure the ideas of relationships which becomes confusing once he is involved with a beautiful but very dysfunctional woman named Bobbie (Ann-Margaret). The film plays into three different time periods and with different women as screenwriter Jules Feiffer explores not just the world of sexual politics but also in how men use women for their own sexual needs.
The first act is set in Amherst College where Jonathan and Sandy are roommates as the latter pursues a student at a nearby college in Susan (Candice Bergen) where they have a relationship but Jonathan’s advice from Sandy would complicate things until Jonathan would have an affair with Susan which becomes secret. The second act is set in New York City in the corporate world where Sandy and Susan are married but it’s not a happy union while Jonathan embarks on this turbulent relationship with Bobbie as it is Jonathan’s attempt to have a steady relationship. What happens plays into the fallacy of relationships as well as what happens when sex gets in the way where there are many discussions between the two men about sex. Some tend to be good but some of it is also bad as it relates to Sandy’s marriage to Susan as Sandy would look for something else prompting Jonathan to do something to help them both. It would lead to a third act as it plays into not just what it means to be adults but also the idea of love and sex.
Mike Nichols’ direction is very engaging for the way it explores the friendship of two men in the span of 25 years as Nichols doesn’t really go for any kind of visual tricks. Instead, it is very straightforward while he manages to let things play out in terms of what happens when it comes to the idea of sex and relationships. The compositions that Nichols create interesting in the way he frames the actors into a film while having one or two characters in the foreground while someone else is in the background. Even as the person in the background is either watching or being the subject of ridicule as there are moments of dark and crass humor involved. Especially as the women in the film do get treated like shit as they call upon Jonathan for his bullshit while Sandy would also get some recourse for his own actions. Even as its third act plays into the eventual destinies that both Sandy and Jonathan endure in their life and what they’re willing to accept. Overall, Nichols create a very compelling and witty film about two men exploring the world of sex and love.
Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography to create some unique moments for some of the nighttime interior/exterior scenes to set some dark moods into the film. Editor Sam O’Steen does brilliant work with the editing to convey some of the drama that occurs with a few jump cuts and other rhythmic cuts to play into some of the dramatic tension. Production designer Richard Sylbert, with set decorator George R. Nelson and art director Robert Luthardt, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the apartment Jonathan lived in with Bobbie to the more posh one he would have in the film‘s final moments. Costume designer Anthea Sylbert does terrific work with the costumes from the clothes that the men wear in the different time periods to the stylish clothes of the women. Sound recordist Larry Jost does nice work with the sound as it’s very low-key and to the point while capturing much of the music that is played on film ranging from Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Frank Sinatra.
The film’s phenomenal cast includes notable appearances from Carol Kane as Sandy’s second wife Jennifer late in the film, Cynthia O’Neal as a friend of Bobbie that Sandy would date in Cindy, and Rita Moreno in a superb one-scene performance as a hooker that Jonathan meets late in the film. Candice Bergen is excellent as Sandy’s college girlfriend/first wife Susan as she is this woman that is charmed by Sandy’s kindness as she later has an affair with Jonathan that would have her be more outgoing. Ann-Margaret is fantastic as Bobbie as this very attractive but troubled older woman who doesn’t feel she is treated fairly while being someone that seems to depend on the needs of a man.
Art Garfunkel is superb as Sandy as this introverted man that is trying to find ways to be with women as he later becomes disillusioned with the idea of marriage only to realize that there’s so much more to life than just sex. Finally, there’s Jack Nicholson in an incredible performance as Jonathan Fuerst as this very charming and wild man that is eager to get what he wants while becoming frustrated with the constraints of being in a relationship while giving Sandy advice that eventually doesn’t work as he copes with who he is as it’s one of Nicholson’s best performances.
Carnal Knowledge is a riveting yet unsettling film from Mike Nichols that features top-tier performances from Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margaret. It’s a film that manages to very captivating in its exploration of sex as well as the roles of genders during that time. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to be provocative as it is also a film that showcased what was happening during the early 70s when sex is being discussed openly. In the end, Carnal Knowledge is a marvelous film from Mike Nichols.
Mike Nichols Films: (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) - (The Graduate) - (Catch-22) - (The Day of the Dolphin) - (The Fortune) - (Gilda Live) - (Silkwood) - (Heartburn) - (Biloxi Blues) - Working Girl - Postcards from the Edge - (Regarding Henry) - (Wolf (1994 film)) - The Birdcage - (Primary Colors) - (What Planet Are You From?) - (Wit) - (Angels in America) - Closer - (Charlie Wilson’s War)
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