Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lady Chatterley (2006)- NR

Film, like much of our popular culture, is obsessed by the topic of infidelity. Our feelings about affairs are so strong yet so paradoxical. Opinion polls say that 70% - 80% of people believe strongly that extra-marital sex is harmful. However, the subject remains one of the most popular and erotic in both contemporary and classic films and literature. Seven out of the last 28 Best Picture Academy Award winners featured infidelity as a major theme.
With a subject so popular one would think it is highly researched. In fact, the opposite is the truth. As documents by Adrian Blow’s excellent review of all published studies on infidelity since 1980 (Infidelity In Committed Relationships: A Methodological Review., Blow, Hartnett,. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy April 2005, Vol. 31, No. 2, 183–216, and Journal of Marital and Family Therapy April 2005, Vol. 31, No. 2, 217–233) the subject is poorly researched both by number of studies and quality of their design. Researchers cannot agree on the definition of infidelity (intercourse vs. romantic vs. cyber internet relationships, etc., etc.) and neither can the general public or Bill Clinton. Even when researchers agree to define it as genital intercourse, the few studies that document incidence varies from 50% of the population to 6%! However, most studies agree that it is closer to 25% of married men and 15% of married women that have had extra-marital sex sometime in their life. Many of these people have had only one event for when these same groups are asked if they have had extra-marital sex in the last 12 month the percent drops to under 2%. Finally, research cannot agree on how it affects a committed relationship. Though most studies document its painful impact, it is unclear if an affair is the cause of a poor relationship or is a product of a bad marriage. There are two studies that even document improved relationships as a result of affairs. Though research is unclear Hollywood is not. Infidelity in films is depicted as common, extremely erotic and dangerously destructive. This is why Lady Chatterley is such different and noteworthy film.

Lady Chatterley is a provocative and beautifully filmed story about the re-birth of a woman due in-part, to an affair. The film is based on D.H. Lawrence’s writing. Lawrence in fact, wrote 3 versions of this erotic story. Lady Chatterley is based on an earlier version and one where the erotic story develops slowly and where the characters are “softer.” This French film with English sub-titles is a story of a wealthy women Lady Chatterley played by Marina Hands. Her husband returns from WWI crippled both physically and spiritually. To escape her lifeless marriage she forms a friendship with the gardener, who has a cottage on their estate. The friendship turns both sexual and romantic. However, the real storyline in this movie is both more complex and more liberating.

Lady Chatterley is a captive in a prison of depression. Despite her wealth, she is enslaved in a house full of despair and hopelessness. Her Victorian society of the turn of the century keeps both her spirit and body wrapped in many layers. Lady Chatterley is a story about how a woman literally and figuratively removes these layers. Her freedom first comes from getting out of the house, walking in nature and enjoying the garden. The film has beautiful nature scenes. We walk with her through the woods and the camera spends as much time on a butterfly and the wild flowers as on the actors. Her freedom next comes with experiencing sex with a stranger. The sex scenes move from Lady Chatterley being a passive observer, to her first exploration of a man’s penis, to the discovery of her own passion and finally to teaching her lover the joys of running nude in the rain. Her final step to freedom is in the surprise ending where her new found freedom lifts the spirits of her husband and where she encourages her lover to enjoy the passion of his own wife!
The film provides an excellent road map for ending depression. A therapist certainly would not prescribe an affair, however a prescription would include getting out of your head and into your body and nature. It would include taking risks and changing your environment. I rented this film hoping that it would include the tasteful soft-core French eroticism similar to the movie “Emmanuelle” (1974-NR). Instead, this is a bold and complex film of sensuality, nature, sexuality and passion. This is also a film that cast a very different light on infidelity. It is very different than the painful outcomes of “Unfaithful (2002-R)”, “Indecent Proposal” (1993- R). and “Body Heat” (1981-R). The outcomes from Lady Chatterley are ones of hope, renewal, healing and movement towards honesty. The movie captures some of the complexities of affairs that the research lacks. One word of caution, stay with the film through its very slow moving first 20 minutes. You will be rewarded