The Relationship in 9 1/2 Weeks

Ultimately, I think it is her sadness that makes the movie. She is sad from the start. She is sad before she met him. She’s got a good game-face, and she’s gorgeous in a head-turning way, but she’s not really living a real life. You can see that in the one interaction she has with a guy who tries to hit on her in the store in Chinatown. He’s a goof, yeah, but whatever, he’s just trying to make conversation, and she is openly rolling her eyes at him, but it is not quite a successful rejection. She doesn’t come across as a dame who knows how to handle the men (like a Lauren Bacall), she’s insecure, one of those beautiful women who really can’t own it, and has hostility towards men for the attention they give her. It’s a subtle moment, and is really just setting up the entrance of Rourke – but I think it’s illuminating in terms of her character. She doesn’t really enjoy herself. She seems “off” to me. From the start.

And so it is not that he breaks her down. It is that he perceives that she was on that path anyway. That’s the kind of woman he wanted. When they run into each other at a street fair, and he appears beside her as she oohs and ahhs over a French silk scarf, he stands right next to her, smiling down at her. There’s something about him that moves her, but she has been too dominated and hurt by men in the past to let him “get to her” right away (there is the whole gnarly relationship with her ex-husband … you can tell that she is the kind of woman who abdicates self in a relationship – Not ALL women do that, but she does … I think he senses that willingness in her … he makes it a game for her, with rules, as opposed to some scary passive-aggressive thing, so she can have fun with her already-existing tendencies of self-obliteration … I don’t think she realizes this about herself … HE sees it, she does not). She walks away from him. He eventually follows her down the street, and takes the silk scarf out of his pocket – he has bought it for her. Her reaction is the key to the movie, I think. (Well, that, and Mickey Rourke’s general hot-ness). She is not thrilled, or happy, or even tentative as to who this guy is and why he has done this. She looks tragically sad. It is as though the bottomless pit of need inside her has suddenly been touched, seen, by a total stranger … and for the first second it seems, maybe, that someone could fulfill her. This is not a happy revelation. I speak from personal experience. After a long life of rejection, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams … to have someone say, “Yes. I see that. Let me try to make it better” is actually quite awful. Or it can be. It’s hard to be happy. (For some of us). It’s hard for that character to be happy. He presents her with a gift, out of nowhere, and a look of unbearable sadness comes over her face. That’s the key to the movie.

He sets her free. You can see that. But it comes with a price, which he will exact from her, bit by bit, over the course of the film.

It is a silly movie, and I am not, in general, a Kim Basinger fan (my favorite performance of hers is in Nadine, with Jeff Bridges – she’s a wonderful and goofy comedienne, she reminds me of Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth in that movie, only with a Southern accent) but what elevates 9 1/2 Weeks from a movie like, oh, hm, let me think, Wild Orchid or the abysmal Another 9 1/2 Weeks where you basically want to tag Mickey Rourke with a stun-gun to put him out of his misery (“Tell me about Elizabeth” he says in the middle of some “erotic” sex scene and you know that he doesn’t give a SHIT about “what happened to Elizabeth” – he just wants to get out of there!!) … is the sadness underneath everything. Yes, it’s about sex, but it’s about sex that is connected to who we are, dreams, loss, hope … That sex isn’t in a vacuum (like it is in so many movies). It takes place in a larger context.

I know Mickey Rourke scorns this movie, or – no, he seems to have a complicated relationship with it. It made him a GIANT star, the sexiest man in Hollywood – although he had been doing stellar work for some time before that. But when people come up to him on the street, to this day, it is usually 9 1/2 Weeks they reference. He said, in the fantastic interview that appeared in last week’s Entertainment Weekly (thank you, Michael), “That was when the whole pretty, sexy thing came about.” He had mixed feelings about it. He says, in the interview, “I never saw myself that way, and I ran from it like wildfire. I don’t know why. I don’t … know … why.”

Later in the interview, he is asked “if boxing was perhaps a subconscious attempt to destroy the good looks that had made him famous”, and Rourke pauses to think. Then says, “There may be some validity to that.”

Pauline Kael wrote, in her famous review of 1982’s Diner:

[Rourke] has a sweet, pure smile that surprises you. He seems to be acting to you, and no one else.

That’s part of the effectiveness of his work in 9 1/2 Weeks and why he is so unsettling to Elizabeth. He smiles at her and appears to close out the rest of the world, smiling at her and no one else. It is her undoing.


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17 Responses to The Relationship in 9 1/2 Weeks

  1. mitchell says:

    sheil..i have to admit..ive never seen this movie..it was such a rage at the time..that i skipped it and figured id see it later..never did…but i love Kim ..have you seen A Door in the Floor? its the movie based on A Widow for One Year? i think u have…she is sooo good in it and its her sadness that makes the whole thing work..its so present and so underplayed..and of course another Oscar-ignored performance form Jeff Bridges.

  2. george says:

    Pretty much hated “9 1/2 Weeks” when I saw it for the first time just a few years ago and quickly figured out why – Zalman King. Just another picture about two people getting their kinks on. What you see in Elizabeth’s (Basinger) character in the opening scenes just went right over my head although I did think she was the more interesting character of the two. I’m thinking I might have to see this again. I’m also thinking Zalman King should be limited to his Red Shoes Diaries updates (much like is done in the software industry) and manufacturing Red Shoes Diaries memorabilia.

  3. red says:

    Mitchell – Oh yes, I had forgotten about Door in the Floor – you’re right, she’s lovely and tragic in that. And yes, Jeff Bridges is off the charts!!

    I think you and I went to see Nadine together at the Showcase Cinema back in the day!

  4. mitchell says:

    yes we did..we LOVED it..there were like 4 people in the theater!!!

  5. Josie says:

    It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie. I, too, think that O’Rourke is adorable in it. Kim Basinger, however…hmmm. I remember being very underwhelmed by her character, and I like that you evaluated her portrayal as ‘sad’, which I have to say is more positive than my reaction: ‘flat’. :)

  6. red says:

    Mitchell – yes! I remember laughing out loud and just falling in love with those two characters. Totally under-rated movie – maybe I need to review it for reelz.

  7. red says:

    Josie – Yeah, I don’t find her to be flat at all. I find her to be damaged. He sees it, and goes after it.

    I think this was an attempt to actually make a serious movie about sex – and there are some scenes where it goes over the line into goofball-ness (like the scene where they are chased by the gang and then fuck in the stairwell – and I’m also not wacky about the food scene, although they both bring a great playfulness to it.) One of the reasons why I think it works is that for the most part it does feel like a game – and he’s having as much fun as she is … but he needs to push her away and keep showing his dominance.

  8. Josie says:

    Ok, It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie…how do we know she’s damaged?

    Oh, and I love Queen, and one of my favorite quotes of Freddie Mercury is “Hello! I’m Kim Basinger.” That always makes me laugh! :)

  9. red says:

    It has to do with her sadness – especially in the first moment when he surprises her by giving her the scarf (as I described in the post). Other women, women who can take care of themselves a bit better, might laugh it off, or be like, ‘Dude, YOU CRAZY”, or just start flirting with him, meeting him on level ground. She doesn’t – she stares at him looking stricken with sadness! He senses that brokenness in her – it’s why he picked her. (Well, that and her general blonde bombshell je ne sais quoi, I imagine!)

    I’ve felt her to be flat in other roles – I was not wowed by her in LA Confidential, I thought she was quite stiff – (now Russell Crowe is another matter!!) – but I liked her here.

  10. Josie says:

    (I can’t stop reading your blog…you’re awesome, Sheila!)

    I think I know what you’re saying. Kind of like in “Secretary”, when David Spade’s character notices Gyllenhall’s little quirks, or really is attentive towards her. She also seems rather broken, given that she has just come off of her stint from the psych hospital.

    I guess she just made me mad because if I found Mickey Rourke, I wouldn’t let go.

    (Haha, I said O’Rourke before!)

  11. mitchell says:

    i politely disagree with u about her in LA Conf…. i think she lights a torch under every scene she’s in and never lets us see her do it…her mere presence ups the tension and the stakes..but she doesnt betray the icy exterior of the character by “showing” us her work..i think its her unique gift…and btw did u see Rourke’s homphobic rant in L.A. last night??? he may or may not be a gr8 actor( im on the latter side, sorry)..but he may also be a full on DOUCHEBAG!

  12. red says:

    Yeah, I just thought it was just okay. I loved the movie but I just didn’t find her performance to be as good as pretty much everyone else’s in the film!

    And I think it has been clearly shown over the years that Rourke can indeed be a douchebag!

  13. red says:

    I even liked Kevin Spacey in the movie and THAT is saying something!!

  14. red says:

    Josie – I am laughing (not AT you) but just laughing at the image of DAVID SPADE in that role – and not James Spader, who actually played it. hahaha I can’t get it out of my mind now and it is such a strange image!!!

    I adored Secretary – and yeah, no way on earth could that guy ever have a “normal” woman – he needed someone who was looking for a “master” … Loved that movie. It was so sweet – and it’s based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill, who I love – so I was SO afraid they would wreck it. They did change it quite a bit, but the essence of it they kept and I loved it. Thought Maggie was marvelous.

  15. Josie says:

    HA! Every time I write in your blog, I screw up people’s names! David Spade! hahahaha! That is pretty funny. Sorry. :)

  16. red says:

    Would be a different movie, wouldn’t it …

    hahahaha

  17. Ludicrous (and not so ludicrous) things about Prayer For the Dying

    This was the film where Mickey Rourke played an IRA terrorist, haunted by an explosion gone awry, who now wants out of the terror business – but oh, it won’t be that easy, will he? There is just one…