Chloe – or what it means

Chloe (2009) by Atom Egoyan

I watched Chloe last night. These past few days I had actually become a little obsessed with the idea of watching it. I guess it had everything to do with going to watch Julianne Moore playing gay again. Julianne Moore is an outstanding actress, talented and able. And she’s super-hot.

I have not watched the movie this one based on, Nathalie. Strangely enough, I wanted to see it back in the days but never quite got to it. Now I am going to watch it and will probably end up owning both on DVD some day. So, I guess, you already think I liked the movie. Well, I am not quite sure about that, it confused me a lot. And I am not sure if it confused me because I didn’t get it or because I did get it completely. (Like Mulholland Drive which wasn’t all that difficult to understand but still confusing in it’s simplicity.)

I feel like there are many layers to this film and I would like to work through those I have detected. If we only look at the story the movie may seem a little too over the top with a few notions that make the lesbian feminist in me rather uncomfortable. For once, the implication that women seek the company of prostitutes as well as men do. Another implication is that every woman (I guess I could put “straight” in front of “woman” here) is in some way fascinated by the profession of a prostitute. Then, of course, we have the (potentially) lesbian character who obviously had a difficult relationship to her mother, seeks men to satisfy but women to love – and dies in the end. Controversial tropes and they have been discussed at length in other places so I will not go into them here.

And I almost forgot the NOT cheating husband who has the opportunities to sleep with other women but does not while the wife does not only have an affair but an affair with a woman – and she’s straight (or not?).

But if that was all there was to this it would not be based on a European (much less a French) movie. French filmmakers like to be deep and artist-y with a lot of sex-scenes thrown in for good measure. And if you have stars like Fanny Ardent, Emmanuelle Beart and Gerard Depardieu in it it will have a lot of all that. I generally don’t like French movies (even less than I like German movies) because they try to be artist-y while I am all for telling a good (straight [as not to say simple, again; not as to say not gay]) story. I am simple that way.

An underlying red thread in the story is Catherine Stewart’s (Moore) motherhood. Her relationship to her son has been disrupted (it is not told by which incident or if it was just rebellion on his side) but Michael – the son – is now in therapy and everybody seems relieved that he is. There is an indication toward an incestuous relationship between mother and son. They have been close and Catherine struggles with the new situation of his rejection toward her. Her sexual encounter with Chloe seems to draw for the most part on Chloe’s sexual relationship with Catherine’s husband David but since that relationship was invented by Chloe and never happened the linkage between her night with Chloe and Chloe’s sexual encounter with Michael establishes itself retrospectively.

Chloe can also be seen as a substitute child for Catherine (I don’t like this implication either but it’s still there). Since her own child is rejecting her she is “adopting” Chloe as her own. The token from Chloe, a slide or hair comb,  is given with the reference that it has been Chloe’s mothers. Catherine does not wear it until the very end of the movie, indicating that her motherhood has come full circle and that her relationship with Michael is as strong as it has been before (but maybe that is an illusion – the movie is very ambiguous in the end).

There are a lot of indications that the story is more about mother and son than about wife/husband. Neesen plays a sallow character; the male equivalent to a woman who has been cheated on by her husband. But he is not believable maybe because the stereotype is not believable.

The question of the relationship between the two women is not solved. Chloe seems to have become quite obsessed with Catherine (a notion I can completely understand) and Catherine is not as disinterested as she wants to be seen. Is she honestly fighting Chloe’s advances? Is she flattered? Is the token she is wearing in the end a reminder for both husband and son that she is a desirable woman that will not be taken for granted anymore? There are indeed many open questions in the end.

The movie comes full circle with the celebration in the end mirroring that in the beginnning. Only, the picture perfect which Catherine could not establish at the surprise party for her husband is intact in the end at the graduation party for her son. One might think that a family that lived through a trauma like they had, would be disrupted but it’s indeed the contrary. How deep does this picture perfect go? Did Chloe die to reestablish the perfect family? The perfect heterosexual couple? Heteronormativity?

It would be sad if this was the sole purpose for this movie. And the closeup on the token in the end belies this theory. But what does it mean?

I don’t know but it sure is fun to think about it. Chloe challenges perspective. The story is not extraordinarily clever or new but the performances of Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried give it that little extra depth to make it more than just a story about not very likable stereotypes.

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