Believe it or not, I think this scene was a difficult one to pull off effectively, at least in terms of the goals of the film. I do want to talk more about the film and the fine line the whole damn thing walks (which Adrian Lyne, to put it mildly, is NOT able to capture in some of his other “Oooh, graphic sex” films) … but for now let’s talk about the strip scene. He turns on Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and she strips for him, as he sits back, eating popcorn and enjoying her.
What’s sexy about it (and this is not the case with a couple of the other more sexual scenes in the film) is that you really feel that these are two characters going through this – not just bodies and attitudes. Often in movies, when it comes time for the characters to have sex – the soundtrack comes on, the lights go down, and these characters become Olympic athletes of the sexual variety. The fact that they are people – who might have feelings about getting naked, or whatever – vanishes (in movie-land, anyway). In 9 1/2 Weeks – which is risky material any way you look at, and could have ended up being just a joke – or soft-core stuff like Wild Orchid – Lyne (and Rourke and Basinger) do not lose sight of the MEAT of the film – which is the relationship between these two. And – (and this is key) – NOT just his controlling of her (although that becomes more and more paramount as the film goes on). But his growing affection and love for her. Actually, that affection is there from the start, which makes him so off-putting (and yet sexy) in his first couple of scenes. He stands too close. He smiles intimately at her like he already knows her. Guy could come off as a creep, but he obviously senses a receptivity in her, a willingness … and he plays her like a violin. But again: it is NOT just his controlling interest, it is not just his “let me feed you and infantilize” you attitude that comes out over the course of the film. 9 1/2 Weeks is mainly her battle, her battle to stay present, to ask herself questions like, “How far am I willing to go?” … but by the end, we realize that it was his battle as well. This is a damaged individual. Look at his closet. I would see a closet like that and run screaming into the night. No, just kidding. But it’s an interesting character detail, never really dwelled upon, just showed – and we are left to make up our own mind about it. All we need to know about the guy is what his closet looks like, and also the moment that he fills up with emotion at the very end right at the moment that he says the words, “My mother …” Mickey Mickey Mickey, why are you so brilliant. A lesser actor would only be interested in playing the cool aloof part of the character, because it’s safer that way.
Like I said, a film like this could end up being rather silly, and there are silly moments in it – some intentional, some not intentional. Having sex is sexy while you’re doing it – but if you put a camera on two people going at it, it can look rather amusing. When the two of them have sex in the rainy stairwell – I know THEY’RE turned on, but to me, it’s a funny scene. Not like goofy or dumb, but funny – because in that moment, those two people are totally focused on having sex, dammit, and it’s just ridiculous! Actors have the same insecurities that real people do about all of this, so sometimes – as a defense mechanism against that – you can see male actors playing it “cool”, like they’ll never ever lose their cool – even in mid-sex … Mickey Rourke is not playing that here, although in their “game” scenes, he definitely takes the lead, and loves taking the lead. But – what he never forgets to play – the element he never forgets to add into the pot – is HIS growing feeling for this woman. When he says at the end, “There have been a lot of girls … but none I reacted to this way …” I believe him. Not totally – it’s a very unbalancing moment, and his performance is the most unbalancing thing in it, that’s why it’s great – but because of how he has played other moments (laughing at her jokes, being playful, moments of just BEING with her – when they’re cooking in her kitchen, stuff like that) – I buy it. It costs him a lot to say it. And you know (or at least I know) that, in the life of this man, this is the most open he will ever get. This was his chance. She will have other chances. He will not. NONE of this is said, and that’s why I think the film works.
I don’t think it’s a great film, but for me, it does work – and it’s that strangely unsettling mix of fondness and cool control that makes it work.
So imagine the strip scene being played in Wild Orchid fashion (only without the plumped-out cheeks): a cool-as-ice man, smirking on the sidelines, as he watches a woman push past her comfort zone. A cool man who would never “lose it”, who is always wound up tight, but without ever showing the effort. He would look on as she stripped, maybe he would have one eyebrow raised – that’s as close as he would come to showing arousal. He would hold back, withhold … and cackle with interior joy at her abandon.
That’s not what is being played here and that’s why the scene is so good, I think. I feel like they’re a couple, first of all. This strip scene didn’t happen on their first night together. It would have had a much different feeling if it had happened earlier in the timeline. This is at the halfway mark. She doesn’t have to be coaxed or cajoled (although she does have a couple of cute freakout moments at the beginning) – and he is into it – not in a “Oooh, look at how much control I have over this woman” way … but in a “Holy shit, I am the luckiest man alive” way. He’s playing that. Some of the other sex scenes are played slowly – lingered over to an almost fetishistic degree – this one is not. They are having a blast.
And he’s doing some very unexpected fun things as he’s watching her. It’s hard to have any focus on yourself in a scene where a woman is taking her clothes off. How do you compete? He does. This is not a scene where it’s all about HER (even though it is) – HE is an essential part of making the whole thing work.
Just by watching.
And not just by watching. But HOW he watches.
(Screenshots and clip below. Check out what he does at around the 2:10 – 2:13 mark … that’s the kind of thing I mean).