Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Would Chloé wear Chloé? Part 2: Coming Critically Clean

When is a Love Triangle 
more than a Love Triangle?


How many of the erotic thrillers in existence bottom out in a Lifetime Channel-esque family values defense?
By my count: one.

Chloé, a 2009 film directed by Atom Ergoyan

As we have seen, this work is an extended film essay on mid-life crisis and the ways in which, after a time, even the most romantic of relationships may eventually fizzle out like flat champagne, leaving nothing behind but memories of the "The Way We Were". Catherine and David Stewart were apparently quite the hot and heavy couple as youngsters, but times have changed and so have they. As the years--now decades--sped by, and wrinkles crept onto the corners of their eyes, each of the two pursued their career, and a son was thrown into the mix, with the boring and predictable result of distraction and exhaustion. Eventually the couple reached the point where they just weren't doing it anymore.

Or has David been fooling around with someone else? was Catherine's concern, her insecurity verily screaming out from nearly every single scene of the film. On the one hand, she seems to be a strong, independent woman. On the other hand, she is completely overwhelmed by the prospect that her husband may be cheating on her. The thought that she may have become undesirable constantly tears away at the successful physician, making her snap even at David's jovial banter with a mere waitress, who, in Catherine's eyes, now appears to be one of the many menacing threats with which she has suddenly become beset.

Do not proceed, if you have not seen this film 
and have any intention of doing so. 

Inquiring minds have straying eyes, which is why I provided an extra wall of spoiler warning. Now, at last, it is time to come critically clean. Chloé (the film) is not at all what Chloé at first seems. For one thing, Chloé (the prostitute) never slept with David, though she told Catherine that she did.

Near the end of the story, it finally emerges, after the depiction of a couple of hot and heavy erotic scenes between the young prostitute and the suspected cad, that the real reason for David's loss of interest in his wife is that he is simply too tired to sleep with anyone, worn down by his excessive workload as a college professor and growing older day by day.

Too many performances prancing about the stage; too many late nights grading bad term papers on Beethoven. By the end of the day, David wants nothing more than to sleep. He has simply lost the vim and verve and, well, drive, that he had in his earlier years. Yes, that's right, notwithstanding the mounting circumstantial evidence, Catherine's husband has not been sleeping with anyone, neither his middle-aged wife, nor his fresh as a daisy co-eds, as she had suspected and feared.

He skipped his birthday party not to spend extracurricular time with a student (the one whose image blipped into his device the next day) but because he, like Catherine, was constantly cringing at the thought of his inexorably advancing age.

This viewer was fooled by the film because in it the young prostitute described in detail a series of erotic scenes between herself and David which never in fact took place, though they were vivid enough to conjure up high-definition technicolor images in Catherine's mind. The images on the screen were how things seemed to the would-have-been-cheated-on wife, and that was what the viewer was permitted to see, as though the scenes had really transpired within the world of the film!

Clever, Atom, very clever. But why, one may inquire, would Chloé do such a thing? The clues begin early on, but ultimately the answer to the mystery is that Chloé, the prostitute, has fallen for Catherine, the gynecologist.

Eventually the two women wind up in bed in a hot and heavy lesbian love scene, as Catherine, in her despair, accepts Chloé's overture as a way of connecting with David, with whom, she believes, the young prostitute has recently connected. (No, I am not joking.)

Chloé, on the other hand, ascribes far more significance to the encounter, as she has grown quite fond of Catherine through their various meetings and discussions. 

The morning after, Chloé sends Catherine a souvenir of their afternoon delight, at which point it becomes clear that the young prostitute is now smitten with the distinguished older woman:

But wait, there's more: the fun has only just begun!

Regular visitors to the salon de parfum are apt to have been wondering in the back of their mind whether the inclusion of a son in this fabulous fable was completely gratuitous. A father, a mother, a son... could there also be some Freudian content here?

It seems as though Atom must have read your mind, for the son did indeed figure in the love tetrahedron of this not-so-little morality tale.

Early on in the story, Michael and Chloé had met at Catherine's office. Chloé had gone there to deliver papers documenting her STD-free state. Michael had stopped by to retrieve the formal suit which his mother had apparently picked up for him from the dry cleaner so that he could wear it to his piano recital.

The chemistry between the prostitute and the son was unmistakeable as they hovered for a moment over Catherine's copy machine. Michael, in particular, seemed especially taken with the young woman, perhaps in part because he had recently been virtually dumped (online!) by his own girlfriend, who had decided that she did not want to be "tied down" after graduation:

Naturally, Michael had no idea that Chloé was a prostitute, and his mother was taken aback to find that the two had been chatting while waiting for her to arrive. But it wasn't simply that she feared the potentially corruptive effect which a prostitute might have upon her son. No, Catherine had been suffering from her son's disaffection as well as her husband's at the same time. Having been seemingly abandoned simultaneously by both her husband and her once affectionate son, Catherine has been plagued by the specter of having somehow failed both as a wife and as a mother.

In reality, we have seen the real reason for her husband's lack of attention, and her son's was nothing more than the usual teenage aloofness toward parents who of a sudden begin to seem incredibly uncool and to be avoided, even spurned, at all costs. After all, uncoolness may well be contagious!

When Catherine catches her son with his girlfriend in the house, having just spent the night together, she is visibly annoyed, and the sight of their exuberant youth and the memory of how she and David had once been intensifies her growing concern that her husband is now sleeping with someone not unlike this young lady who has just spent the night with her son!

To return to Chloé, where we last left off, she had developed something of a crush on Catherine. When the young lovestruck woman shows up at Catherine's office, flowers in hand, the physician is visibly perturbed and recognizes that she needs to call a halt to this narrative as quickly as she can.

She informs Chloé that the affair was a mistake and that she is sorry, but they had a business relationship which is now over, and they are now through. She asks the young prostitute how much money she wants, and takes out a checkbook and writes a big check, ripping it from the pad and thrusting it at Chloé in the hope that she will take the money and be on her way.

Chloé is crushed and rails at Catherine, telling her that what they had was real and that she knows that Catherine knows that it was real and that this has nothing to do with money. Chloé does not want Catherine's money, she wants Catherine!!!!!!!!!!!!

Devastated, Chloé sets out to find a way to win Catherine back. Her plan starts with Catherine's son, whom she essentially stalks, following him to the Stewart home.

Being a handsome young lad, Michael naturally believes that Chloé has fallen for him. She asks Michael to show her around his house, and they end up in Catherine and David's bedroom, where Chloé proceeds to undress.

As they make love, in Chloé's effort to reconnect with Catherine, Chloé insists on staring at Catherine's clothes hanging in the closet. Michael does not understand why Chloé is not looking at him. Later, when Catherine returns home, she finds her son asleep in her bed with the prostitute.

A scuffle ensues, and Chloé appears prepared to harm Catherine with the hairpin which she gave her and found lying on her vanity tray. In the brouhaha, Chloé ends up falling off the deck, to her death.

Having won back both her husband and her son with the demise of this young woman of ill-repute, Catherine reigns triumphant once again.


  1. What an annoyingly tidy ending! I'm guessing that, after this, Catherine wears some very strong "territory-marking" perfume during her non-working hours, no?

    1. Honestly, this film is so preposterous that it ends up being campily good! I decided not to spell out the morals of the story, but they are clear to see. Very, very conservative picture here, despite all the modern slick technology and the aesthetic effort clearly invested in the production. Not to mention the all-star cast!

      Catherine is a strange and contradictory creature--at once liberated and successful, while also being tied to the traditional conceptions of what a woman supposedly must be. Ultimately, she is trapped in a prison of her own creation, pulled in both directions simultaneously and unable to find her own way.

      Throughout the history of film, prostitutes have been depicted as the enemies of family and society, despite the fact that throughout most of human history, that was nearly the only option open to women who demurred from the role of personal assistant and caretaker...

      Nice to see you here, pitbull friend! More campy film reviews to come... Next up: The Naked Kiss! ;-)

  2. Dearest Shera
    After these revelations - I really don't mind spoilers as they don't really spoil very much for me (we all know what happens in Hamlet after all) - I find myself thinking that it is the original Lagerfeld Chloe that would be more suited to its namesake.
    With a bigger personality and inherent instability and subject to an ignominious demise, it seems the perfect olfactory representative.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    1. Excellent observations, PD, and now that you mention it, I do believe that once Chloé has fallen madly and hysterically in love with Catherine, she surely must have changed her perfume! It was, after all, a life-transforming event...

      Yes, the original Lagerfeld Chloé (which I understand was a big, declarative, no-holds-barred floral perfume) sounds like it might well have been a good fit for the new Chloé.

      A couple of other possibilities: Christian Dior Poison and Calvin Klein Obsession both came to my mind. The later I regard as the Glenn Close character's signature scent in the film Fatal Attraction.

      I did find it difficult not to think of the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction while watching Chloé's spiral downward, which of course could only have ended in death!

      Thank you so much for weighing in, The Perfumed Dandy!

  3. The untimely death of the young prostitute does not mean that the affection of a rebellious young son and the love of a worn-out husband is coming back! A really stupid ending. So the evil immoral prostitute is "punished" by dying? The rest of the characters were not fault-free either. A stupid movie. I don't understand the meaning of all this.

    1. Hello, Ursula, and thanks for offering your reactions to this old-fashioned morality play dressed up in slick aesthetics and embellished by technology.

      It's really incredibly conservative, in my view. The prostitute represents evil and must die, and the nuclear family must be reunited. Sounds like the 1950s to me! Especially given that lesbianism is also condemned at the same time.

      Chloé is not just a prostitute--she's also a lesbian! So after Chloé's death, Catherine is left to repent from her "sexual deviance" and go back to being a good hetero wife. It's somewhat remarkable to me that this was produced so recently (in 2009), given all of the recent advances in our culture regarding these matters.

      Hello? Earth to Atom? Our society no longer condemns homosexuals as pathological!


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