Dir. Patrice Chereau (2001)
Two people with bad marriages get together, trying to enjoy at least one part of their lives.
Intimacy is a movie that is notorious for its real, unsimulated sex scenes. It’s starring Mark Rylance, a recent Oscar winner for Bridge of Spies, and Kerry Fox, a person who has given an on-screen blowjob to an Oscar winner. It’s also got an excellent soundtrack, and as far as I’m concerned, any movie that opens with hardcore Hollywood sex and London Calling by The Clash is fine by me, and quite indicative of a good time to come.
Jay and Claire (Rylance and Fox) have an entirely physical relationship. They are cheating on their significant others with each other, trying desperately to bring a little joy into their otherwise unhappy lives. Their marriages are loveless, and, in Jay’s case, generally over. In each other, they find an outlet for no strings attached sex, enabling them to escape from the monotony of their lives once a week when they meet each other in an apartment Jay has leased.
Their sex scenes are almost completely silent, with no real passion to speak of. However, after Claire misses one of their weekly meetings, Jay decides to follow her and find out more about her life. He meets her husband, a generally good man who is perhaps not a great fit for her, and her son. He discovers that Claire is an aspiring actress who runs a theater troupe, and that her family is completely and wholeheartedly supportive of her. He realizes very quickly that he has feelings for her, and apparently decides that the best way to approach the situation is by befriending her husband, playing a deceitful cat and mouse game in an effort to become a part of her life.
Rylance and Fox are truly excellent in this film, and they turn what could’ve been a drab, boring indie drama into a fantastic film that delves into the dark side of lives unfulfilled. Rylance’s character Jay is a failed musician who has left his wife and children, seeking the comfort of friends who are more interested in their own lives and a woman who is using him as an escape as much as he’s using her. Even in other sexual relationships that he seeks, he is unable to get his mind off of the woman he has grown to “love,” at least to the extent that he’s capable of the emotion. He’s selfish, boring, and practically unlovable. Fox’s Claire, on the other hand, lives an equally sad life. Her supportive family is not able to enable her to achieve her goals. Her husband is a disappointing rube, her child the only person in her life that truly appreciates her for what she is. But, like Jay, she’s selfish. She chooses to spend her time with Jay, as she is incapable of finding happiness with the people that are already in her life.
It’s a depressing film, to be sure, and one that we know strikes a chord for many in the audience. At what point do we have a right to happiness, and at what expense to those around us? When must we accept the hands that life has dealt us, either through happenstance or our own choices, and at what points do we have the right or responsibility to change these things? These questions are addressed and, like the characters in the film, we’re left with few answers.
The people we feel bad for are the victims in these two people’s search for contentment: Jay’s family is devastated, with his wife at one point asking him if he even loves his kids, while Claire’s husband, a truly sympathetic character who doesn’t deserve what is coming to him, is clearly doing the best he can, and it’s never enough. It’s just… sad, really. Knowing that there are people in this world living this experience on a daily basis, and knowing that it so rarely works out in any quantifiable way. Rylance and Fox execute director Patrice Chereau’s vision perfectly, providing for us a window into a world we have absolutely no desire to be a part of. And, ultimately, we learn the true meaning of Intimacy in relation to the film’s characters: it’s something that they, try as they might, will never have with each other. It’s devastating, brilliant, and, remarkably, beautiful.