|Jonathan & Sandy: Amherst College, Massachusetts - Late 1940s|
|Older, But Not Wiser|
Sandy & Jonathan: New York - Early 1960s
|Jack Nicholson as Jonathan Fuerst|
|Ann-Margret as Bobbie Templeton|
|Arthur Garfunkel as Sandy|
|Candice Bergen as Susan|
Susan and Jonathan connect behind Sandy's back
|Carnal Knowledge explores how both men and women can feel |
pressured into engaging in sexual activity
|Although in the film 29-year-old Bobbie is an enticing older woman to 20-something Jonathan, in real life, Ann-Margret (who really WAS 29) was four years younger than co-star Jack Nicholson's 33.|
Into Jonathan’s life comes Bobbie, a TV commercial model who is the physical embodiment of the Playboy ideal and Jonathan’s fantasy-girl come to life. Unfortunately, since Playboy magazine fails to disclose just how one goes about living day-to-day with an individual one needs to objectify for the purpose of sexual arousal, things begin to head south for the pair rather rapidly; the pliant, none-too-bright bombshell who only wants to get married and have kids proving an easy and willing emotional punching bag for Jonathan’s aggression, scorn, and callousness.
That the blossoming and eventual disintegration of their relationship plays out almost exclusively within the confines of their bedroom (a playroom turned prison) underscores the realization that Jonathan's and Sandy's quest to align adolescent sexual fantasy with adult reality is a task far beyond either of their capabilities. Easily the most emotionally brutal and devastating section of the film, Act II of Carnal Knowledge lays bare the battle of the sexes in a way that spares no one. As the men approach middle age, wondering whether their teen ideals will ever be realized, it becomes obvious that neither knows any more about women than they did in their days at Amherst.
|Divorced, indecisive and easily bored, Sandy finds temporary solace with Cindy (Cynthia O'Neal),|
a woman whose self-assurance suits his sly passive-aggressiveness
Act III: Louise (Rita Moreno) Late '60s/'70s * "The Female Eunuch" Germaine Greer 1970
|The Misogynist's Maxim|
Able to achieve arousal under only the most compulsively controlled circumstances, Jonathan has Louise ritualistically recite a carefully prepared (pitiful) speech designed to reassure him of his male dominance.
|Has "Boys Will Be Boys" always meant "Boys Will Be Hollowed-Out Husks of Shame & Self-Loathing"?|
|After having a 1972 obscenity verdict overturned, Carnal Knowledge was re-released in 1974 with new poster artwork. In 2001 Mike Nichol's Closer recreated that ad's quadripartite portrait design|
|Never Trust Anyone Who Begins a Sentence with the Words "Believe Me"|
In 1971, a line of dialogue branding Jonathan contemptible
and superficial. Today, likely a 3am tweet from a 70-year-old cretin.
She's is indeed outstanding and gives a very moving performance every bit deserving of her Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination; but looking at the film today, I'm more surprised that Jack Nicholson's performance escaped Academy notice. He's perhaps the oldest-looking college boy on record, but he is electric to watch and plays Jonathan with a naked complexity I can't believe many others could mine so effectively. In truth, everyone in Carnal Knowledge shines brightly, and the performances have only grown richer with the passing of time.
|Carol Kane as Jennifer|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
In our heteronormative culture, we've devised names for men who hate women (misogynists), and women who hate men (misandrists); but I've yet to come across a suitable word for the parallel cultural phenomenon of gay men who hate other gay men (the word homophobe doesn't cut it for me). I bring this up because, as a gay man, I only see Carnal Knowledge as being partially about the battle between the sexes.
But that's for another essay at another time.
|In 2001, Vanity Fair reunited the cast and director of Carnal Knowledge |
for this spectacular group portrait by photographer Annie Leibovitz
A few excerpts from a truly jaw-dropping "Ladies' self-help book" book published in 1945 (its attitudes chillingly reflective of Carnal Knowledge's first act) titled What Men Don't Like About Women by Thomas D. Horton. Clearly the Steve Harvey of his day.
YouTube: Mike Nichols talks about Carnal Knowledge: 2011 Film Society of Lincoln Center
|"You want perfection."|