Starring: Dennis Hopper, Amy Locaine, Amy Irving, Hal Holbrook, Gary Busey, Julie Harris
Rated R for Nudity, Strong Sexuality, and Language
Am I the only one who is aware of how twisted this movie is? There's no rule that a movie about pedophilia can't work, but that's only the case if it's not ignored ("The War Zone" comes to mind). But by treating it as a tender story of forbidden love, it turns into something truly unseemly. If the filmmakers thought they were actually making a love story (which they clearly were), I don't want to know any of them personally.
Joseph Svenden (Hopper) is a 47-year-old teacher in a tiny farming community. Although he lacks a college education, he's been teaching for the past 20-odd years, but recent redistricting is causing his school to close down, leaving him out of a job and without a clue as to what to do with himself. Making matters worse is that his mother (Harris) is dying. The only positive thing in his life is Rosalee (Irving), a neighbor and a teacher. She loves him and would happily marry him, but while he loves her too, Joseph is reluctant to pop the question (possibly because his best friend Orin, who died in Korea, got first dibs). In walks Catherine Wheeler (Locane), a young blonde bombshell. Her father Nathan (Busey) is paying Joseph to board her horse. Catherine, it seems, is eager to seduce Joseph, and while he knows its wrong, he allows himself to sleep with her.
The idea that this could possibly be a love story is repulsive. Apart from the subject matter by itself, the film doesn't even work on its own merits. Neither Joseph nor Catherine is written in a way that makes them seem like real people. Joseph occasionally babbles about nothing, and as soon as Catherine takes her shirt off, he agrees to sleep with her. Hopper does what he can to make Joseph real, but there's only so much that he can do. And Catherine simply doesn't work at all. Rather than being the teenage Lolita that the filmmakers intend, she comes across as psychotic; an adolescent Alex Forrest from "Fatal Attraction" mixed with Catherine Trammell from "Basic Instinct." She's the kind of girl who appears suddenly out of nowhere, usually naked, poisons his relationships and blackmails him. Take for example one scene where she flip-flops more than John Kerry about being pregnant in order to manipulate Joseph, they when he gets out of the car in a fit of terror, she laughs and strips (she strips in just about every scene). This is so Romeo & Juliet.
Dennis Hopper gives it his all, but he's saddled with a one-note character who is occasionally inconsistent. Joseph is supposed to be a sad sack who has been rendered impotent by life, but his character is ineptly written. Catherine is just bizarre. At no point does she ever feel like a real person. Amy Irving fares the best, but her character is undermined by the end, which falls into a cliché that under the circumstances will make anyone feel squirmy.
"Carried Away" is one of those literary movies designed to impress the crowd that wears tweed jackets everywhere and smoke cheap pipes they got at a shitty antique store. Which is to say, older versions of Wes Anderson fans. It's meant to be bold and daring by making a romance about a taboo subject, which is fine, except for the fact that the two leads have zero chemistry and whitewashing the moral and ethical implications of its plot and the younger woman's obvious mental instability (a fact that makes the story even more distasteful). Add pretension to an already unpleasant dish, it adds cheesy symbolism that instead of having any sort of meaning, is totally obvious.
There are two bright spots. The score by Bruce Broughton and the cinematography by Declan Quinn are both lovely. Don't want to ignore their valiant efforts to save this film. Pity it was an exercise in futility.