(2003) dir. Jane Campion
A couple years back, on a whim, I picked up Susanna Moore’s novel In the Cut at a used bookstore and was surprised how interestingly written and dark and clever it was. Moore’s protagonist is an isolated, erudite, single female college professor, who drops into a rabbit hole of sex with a cop who is tracking a serial killer. The book, as is the movie, focuses deeply on the place of sex, power, and fear for women in the society. On every corner lurks brutality, or looks as though it does. The potential for pleasure and happiness and desire abut and conflate with that of rape and death.
The book has a dark ending, that really was quite striking, but it’s play and interest in slang, particularly sexual slang kept a somewhat detached, occasionally humorous aloofness. It was a quick read and a surprisingly good one.
As for director Jane Campion’s filmic version, which Moore co-scripted with Campion, it adheres to the vision and the narrative, the paranoia, the progressively frightening realization of the protagonist’s place in the New York City world in which she inhabits. It’s very pessimistic.
Campion’s palette is muted and drab, though not lacking color. Meg Ryan as the protagonist is given perhaps the dumpiest look of her career, with stringy straight brown hair and a wardrobe that isn’t particularly becoming. The darkness is in everything, looking like it’s all shot from flourescent lighting.
For Ryan, this is a huge departure from the cutesy romantic comedies that made her one of the bigger stars on the 1990’s. Somewhere along the line, she decided to try and play more serious roles. And this is a big jump. She does well, almost channelling Nicole Kidman, who apparently was the first choice for the role. And she has to get really, really naked. it’s interesting because she is very much meant to be a woman in her 40’s, not some ripe peach with plastic surgery. She wears little make-up more than lipstick and plays the downbeat fairly well.
While the film is pretty good, culling some of the spirit, dark as it is, from the novel, it lacks the true paranoia and fear that should be built around the story. And at the end, the film pulls the last punch, allowing Ryan’s character to survive for a redemptive happy ending. The film loses some teeth in this. Which is a shame, in a sense. It could be much more Chantal Ackerman and less Hollywood, this could be a harsh and frightening critique of society and its place for female sexuality.