Sunday, March 18, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Carnal Knowledge (1971) ****

R, 98 min.
Director: Mike Nichols
Writer: Jules Feiffer
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Art Garfunkel, Ann-Margret, Candice Bergen, Cynthia O’Neal, Rita Moreno, Carol Kane

During the opening moments of Mike Nichols’ “Carnal Knowledge” my wife was convinced this had to be a Woody Allen movie. The way Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel talk about their desires to meet women and have sex is much like a Woody Allen dialogue where the characters are so sure of their ideas, yet not really all that sure of themselves.  As the movie goes on, these two men don’t really change in the way they define themselves by their sexual conquests.

Their successes and failures never really have much effect on their own perception of themselves. They always feel they could do better and they are each their own worst enemies, Nicholson with his brash misogynistic views, Garfunkel with his childlike insecurities.

Unlike a Woody Allen comedy, Nichols’ heroes get more pathetic as their lives progress rather than more playful. Garfunkel starts out with the best woman he will ever have in Candice Bergen’s character, although she does chose to cheat on him with his best friend. Later, Nicholson ends up with Ann-Margret as a subservient to him.

The third act finds the men at their most pathetic, 20 years after their funny and idealistic conversation from the film’s opening. Garfunkel is dating a child and sees himself as the youth she represents, something he will never be again. Nicholson has succumbed to spending his time reviewing his storied history with women and forcing a prostitute into strict guidelines of control as the only thing even resembling a relationship with the opposite sex left in his life. It is a bitter existence for both men, and possibly a reflection of where men were headed at the height of the sexual revolution. 

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