Friday, May 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: 9 1/2 Weeks

Every adult has seen this movie. Bold statement, I know, but I'm still saying it. Every adult checking this blog out anyway, haha. If you haven't seen it, don't read. Massive spoilers.

I saw it the summer before Freshman year of high school, or maybe during Freshman year of high school. Maybe sooner. I can't remember. I do remember, after catching it on TV one night, that I marched over to Blockbuster and rented it, intent on making my best friend watch it with me.

The funny thing to know about me is I am the baby of the family, and as a result, a lot of the same restrictions my older siblings were subjected to were completely forgotten by the time I came around. I wasn't spoiled; my parents just had the "whatever" attitude at that point.

So I watched movies and read books other kids my age had never heard of, let alone were allowed to watch or read (remember my post on Flowers in the Attic? That was grammar school, folks). There were a couple of other kids like me, but for the most part I ended up being the kid who introduced this shit to my friends. (And I was a good kid! I swear!) The problem is a lot of the nuances were lost on me. I couldn't fully appreciate the themes, and I didn't like some of the stories because I was too young to understand what was going on. Only upon re-watches when I got older did I gain a newfound understanding of various works. That's true for anyone, I imagine, no matter what age you're exposed to the material.

When I watched 9 1/2 weeks, I probably didn't "get" it the way I get it now. I was... 13? 14? I don't know exactly what I thought of it then (besides totally forbidden and sexy); I can only draw what I know of it now and project it back. I recall that we thought Mickey Rourke was gorgeous. We didn't know what he'd done to his fucking face and career yet. I didn't totally get the BDSM scene, or that we were watching a Dominant/submissive relationship... or at least a sort of D/s relationship.

When it was over, we turned to each other and both said, "No!"

I had already seen it, like I said, so I knew what was coming. I knew Elizabeth was leaving, that John would wait, counting. That she would walk against the horde of New Yorkers sobbing openly--and more interestingly, that no one would give her a second glance. But I still thought it was all wrong.

We hated the ending! How could Elizabeth just leave him? He was just opening up! How could she do that? They loved each other!


Our early teenaged minds placed ourselves in the role of Elizabeth.

"I'd never leave him!"

"Ew, me either, what was wrong with her?"

There is so much to comment on here. Internal misogyny, perhaps--we blame her for leaving, we put her in the villain role, when he was literally tearing her apart. What wild innocence.

(I'm happy that a quick check at IMDB comforts me as it features more posts with titles like "Creep from the start" and "What a CREEPER!")

Adrian Lyne, the director, is a very interesting artist. He also directed some other fabulous films, like Unfaithful, Fatal Attraction, etc. that I think play well with 9 1/2 Weeks. These three stories are all cautionary tales, I feel like.

Just to brush upon Unfaithful, Fatal Attraction--Lyne understands desire. He understands how it tempts you, how it breaks you down, how it can destroy you. He also understands love. I feel like he thinks it's not enough, or he's at least portraying relationships where it's not enough. Or maybe he thinks there are shades of love, or even still--that maybe desire is just that strong.

Both Unfaithful and Fatal Attraction involve seemingly happy couples who get fucked up when one steps out on the other.

9 1/2 Weeks is on a different level in that we don't start with a happy couple. There is no happy couple. Everything is tossed on its head. It's also a stark look into the gritty world of Dominant/submissive. (I wonder how it'll measure up to Fifty Shades of Grey)

Elizabeth is divorced and working in an art gallery. She bumps into John and suddenly she's tossed into this dark, seedy underbelly of the sexual world, and of NYC. Their impersonal relationship could even reflect the impersonal relationship of those whose shoulders only touch while crossing one another on busy sidewalks.

At first John seems cool. He's gorgeous, rich and he is very into her. But he fucks with her right away, testing to see how submissive she is. He's always playing games with her, and for some reason she allows him to. Then she likes it. Then she likes it more.

The infamous fridge scene comes to mind. Them running around Coney Island with a big collection of balloons. Elizabeth dressing as a man and the two of them going out, cracking up. The striptease to Joe Cocker.

Then she starts to not like it. She becomes dependent on him. Unhealthily so. He takes care of her every function--dressing, bathing, etc. She definitely doesn't like it when he makes her come to a motel room, blindfolds her and invites a prostitute in.  (Side note, I love how before Elizabeth knows what scene she's about to stumble onto, there is an innocent-looking kid sitting on the steps. She casually pats his head. What a beautifully symbolic gesture, no?)

"Back off bitch, I can brush my own teeth."
To show him how he's made her feel, she runs off to the seedy pay-for-a-box, stick-a-quarter-in kinda part of town. Runs down the steps to a dark club. Watches people fuck in the middle of a crowd of men, all made up in their suits from Wall Street (probably). John catches up to her and she keeps her eyes on his as turns to a stranger and kisses him through her tears.

What I really love about Lyne is how subtle he is about the background activity going on while we've been focusing on John and Elizabeth. In the beginning of the the movie, Elizabeth's ex is always dropping in to see her. She sets her assistant and best friend on him all the time, sighing as she begs her to come up with an excuse. Later we find out they are now dating and are in a happy, "normal" relationship. Kim Basinger's expression speaks volumes.

Elizabeth: "Well, your mom will like him. Mine did."

There's also an artist whose work Elizabeth admires and wants to showcase at the gallery. When she meets him, he's in nature doing his craft, not being influenced by anyone. He's making his art for himself because he enjoys it. Later, when she sees him at the loud, pretentious gala she begins to cry because she sees him standing in the corner, looking lost and uncomfortable. She drew him to the "dark side", as John has done to her. She's tarnished him and put him on display.

Also, Elizabeth starts missing appointments. We hear now and then a message from her doctor's office, chastising her for missing another check-up. She is so consumed by John that she doesn't even know what's happening in her own life anymore. Everything is getting away from her.

Elizabeth finally breaks it off with him. Collects a few things. Promises to send someone over to get the rest. John begins talking, starts telling a story about his dad, but it's too late.

Elizabeth: You knew it would be over when one of us said stop. But you wouldn't say it. I almost waited too long.

She puts her coat on. He explains how he never expected to feel this way, that he never counted on loving her so much. Elizabeth's ears are closed. She leaves.

Then he says "I love you" to nothing.
"I can't even get my ex back."

It still upsets me to watch it. The sex isn't even that sexy to me. It's a struggle to find the transformation from a happy woman to a crying, strung-out, dependent woman attractive.

I'm not even sure if Elizabeth loved John, and I think John was way too fucked up to begin to understand what love was. Their relationship wasn't love. Maybe Elizabeth was too fucked up to know what love was, too. They lacked intimacy and indulged in their detached sexual lifestyle. And Elizabeth entered that relationship, knowing he was sadistic.

Elizabeth: How'd you know I'd respond to you the way I have? 
John: I saw myself in you.

Are they more alike than they appear? Or did they both have a strange desire to bring Elizabeth to her knees, to punish her for something unknown? Did John see a vulnerable girl, and think "yes, here is my next one" because he could manipulate her? Or did he see a vulnerable girl and think "yes, here is my next one" because he was vulnerable?

Does he "love" her because he sees himself? How can he love her, when he's hardly given himself the chance to know her? Does he know seek something more with her--like intimacy?

The sex and S&M are secondary--to me. I think the movie is more about intimacy and the ways we seek it, and lack it. Are we hungry for love? Desirous of another's body? Or do we just want to be close to someone? 

The married couples in Lyne's two other films mentioned earlier love each other--but it's not just that. They have incredible intimacy that keeps them together.

Elizabeth says that line about one of them having to stop themselves before it got too far; why? Because their relationship was so fucking dysfunctional. It was going to kill them, make them feel even more horrible than they already did. Maybe she also feared the Elizabeth she used to be was being erased--because she was. 

Elizabeth emerges from John's apartment in tears. But we also cry when we're born. Maybe it's a good sign.

It used to depress me when she left. Now it's a decade after watching it at my friend's house, and I'm very happy Elizabeth walked out that door. As tempting as it might have been to stay, it was only a matter of time before he ran her down completely.

It's a fantastic movie I would watch more if it didn't make me so sad. It is a wonderful, realistic peek into a destructive relationship.


  1. Will you judge me for never watching this movie? I've wanted to but I just never watched it. ~Rainey

    1. I would never judge you, but you should watch it! You won't believe your eyes when you see the beauty of Mickey Rourke and the story is pretty fascinating, too.

  2. It's been a long time since I've seen it, I have completely forgotten about the details. Time to go watch it again.

    1. Thanks for the internet, we can watch it online: