9 ½ Weeks — CLASSIC FILM PICK
With its tantalizing title suggesting an ideal timeline for a fetishized affair, Adrian Lyne’s beautifully stylized adaptation of Elizabeth McNeill’s novel is a milestone of mainstream erotic cinema. Finished in 1984, but released in 1986 — one year before Oliver Stone’s milieu-similar “Wall Street” — the Manhattan-set story centers around a sadomasochistic relationship that develops between financial district arbitrageur John Gray (Mickey Rourke) and SoHo art gallery hot shot Elizabeth McGraw (Kim Basinger).
John is a master seducer for whom money is no object. His SoHo penthouse apartment is a study in ‘80s modernist minimalism. Every glossy surface is black or gray. He is a sexual adventurer well equipped to draw the classy Elizabeth into his polite game of master and servant. Rourke’s implacable charmer temporarily presents himself as the latter, giving Elizabeth gifts he subtly uses to manipulate her into her new role as his personal sex slave. A gold watch he gives her comes with the request that each day at noon, when she looks at the timepiece, she thinks of him touching her.
Elizabeth imagines herself falling into a conventional, albeit well-funded, relationship based on love more than lust. If Elizabeth’s sensual awakening is every woman’s fantasy of sexual fulfillment, the subtext demands a bank account deep enough to provide for it. Cold irony lurks. Perhaps she really is the seducer after all.
Adrian Lyne establishes the film’s moody soft-core parameters during an iconic sequence wherein Elizabeth masturbates in the art gallery basement while watching a slideshow of artworks. Fragmented projector beams of clouded light cut across Elizabeth’s blonde hair, candy-apple red lips, and luxurious white blouse. Pedestrians walk across the shadow-riddled sidewalk grate that hovers over her head. Voyeuristic New Yorkers are always nearby.
Lyne celebrates the effortless sexual chemistry between Basinger and Rourke, who each give exquisitely authentic portrayals. A centerpiece erotic sequence of foreplay involves John feeding the shut-eyed Elizabeth various foods while the couple sits in front of an open refrigerator. The sequence, along with one in which Elizabeth does a striptease in front of a blinded window, went on to inform a generation of music video filmmakers.
A noirish gloom hangs over the palpable ecstasy in “9 1/2 Weeks.” Cinematographer Peter Biziou masterfully exploits the dramatic potential of every carefully constructed composition to create a world of erotic suspense. Although the film flopped during its theatrical release, and was widely panned by critics, it has come to be recognized as a well-crafted example of soft-core eroticism.
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