Skip to content | Skip to navigation
020-746-0996...I think that's what Nola Rice's telephone number was, and for some odd reason, it stuck in my head. I found myself looking back on all of the phone numbers I can remember, and wondering why they were stuck in my head. Is it a strange way of not being able to let go of the moment, and to want to keep dwelling in it, even though it's in the past? The number just kept repeating itself in my head, long after the movie was over, like the old song "867-5309." Only her name is Nola. Nola Rice. The femme fatale. The woman who could destroy everything you have worked for, or, more likely, the woman whose life you could destroy by pursuing her for your own lustful purposes. The ingenue. The innocent. The graceful, lithe swan.
I'm reminded not only of Theodore Dreiser's book "American Tragedy", but also of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." Yes, this is definitely a reworking of the Tess story. She knew that people just wanted to use her up. She saw it. And she was drawn to the lamplight as much as anyone else. Everyone is guilty. No one is at fault.
So let me ask this: If, as some people think, when a woman gets raped she's at fault because of the way she dressed or supposedly led someone on...what happens if you are born beautiful and female, and you fit the stereotype of the femme fatale, only because men like to use your beauty as an excuse for their inability to control their desires? I'm certainly biased in how I perceive the movie. There are femme fatales, but I really don't see Nola as one. I don't see Nola Rice's character as dragging down her fiancee Tom, nor his friend Chris at all. I don't see her as the femme fatale. I see her, as someone just as fragile as Tom's sister Chloe, but without the safety net that Chloe and Tom's family provides. The wealthy Londoners know no misery. It's so obvious that they don't.
They live in a veritable 'Garden of Eden', with Tom and Chris playing the parts of Cain and Able, Nola as the erstwhile Lilith, and Chloe, who else but Eve? Madonna? Whore. Madonna. Whore?
And what's more, Nola is cursed as well as blessed with beauty. It's her downfall. She can't use it ruthlessly. Women hate her for it, and men want her for it. And when it's all said and done, and she's used up, when she's hard, and she has the potential to cause problems; hey, it's just bad luck. No one helped to seal her fate. No one is responsible for noticing how they take from her and give nothing back. The ideas of Luck, Karma, and God's Will are so shifty.
When Chris, a poor boy from Ireland, not lucky enough to surpass the top tennis players, and now in need of the crumbs that former tennis pros get thrown, tells Tom about his father, and his father's faith, Tom scoffs. Tom says that he thinks despair is the path of least resistance. Chris retorts that faith is the path of least resistance. He says that when his dad lost both his legs, his faith swelled. Tom says that's hardly a fair trade, and he and his well-to-do sis want to change the subject. Too much dwelling on tragedy, when life to them is beautiful all of the time, living in their fairy tale world.
Or is it? What kind of life is it for a young man to be egged into marriage with inbred wealthy cousins? To be born into wealth so vast that in order to maintain it, everyone must know your business? Or how about being a young woman whose family cossets her so much that she never really knows what else lies out there beyond her family's estate? We hear enough about the dark and well-kept secrets of wealthy families to know that money doesn't buy happiness, anymore than having no posessions to tie you down does.
In the beginning of the movie, the voice-over says this:
The man who said 'I'd rather be lucky than good.' saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It's scary to think so much is out of one's control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net and for a split second it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win...or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.
It's all about the precarious balance within which life hangs. Is it all just one big random chance?
What I find the movie to mean, after watching the whole thing to the very end, is that it isn't luck that saves you. And it isn't God that saves you. I don't know what the answer is...maybe a combination of both, or maybe it is all in how you perceive it on an individual basis. If you look at the kind of past that Nola alludes to, and Chris alludes to, it becomes clear that though they may be from different countries, their lives held just as many tragedies. What's different between Chris and Nola? Chris has more confidence. Chris has a very, very, very strong will. Some people would say that Nola behaves like a victim. A lot of Ayn Rand fans out there would say that not only does her attitude seal her fate, but that she was bound to be one of the unlucky ones. I would say that Nola had a tender and vulnerable heart. Just like Chloe.
Do you stomp on a flower because it isn't as resilient as you? Or because it doesn't have a bell jar over it?
I find our culture to be so hard on beautiful women. Apparently they are wholly responsible for any inappropriate advances made toward them, and then what's worse, when they've lost their beauty, society as a whole is harder on them than a plain woman. You are expected to be demure and not acknowledge your beauty, while there are greedy bastards lurking at every corner who acknowledge it. It's a paradox. It's hard to use that ace when so many people hate you for it. God forbid that you should be beautiful and intelligent. That's worse.
It's probably why women like Greta Garbo finally just wanted to be alone.
For Nola to have been stronger than she was, to walk away, to resist Chris' advances might likely have given her the chance to get to know more of who she was than just a beautiful face at the mercy of every drooling man. Women like her, when they were little girls more often than not were being groomed to identify with their beauty, and it's ability to floor men. It's hard to know who you are, when people are telling you that you are everything they are projecting onto you. Sometimes it's even easier to pretend for years that you are not pretty, in an attempt to remain unscathed from it.
And when you finally realize that you were just a commodity to some people, either before the beauty fades, or after, you wonder how they came to the belief that you're not really marriage material...you're fucking material. Damaged goods, but worth a roll in the hay, maybe. It's just tragic if you fall down the hole. And those who were partly responsible for the downfall, just wash their hands of all responsibility, saying: "She was just unlucky," or "It was God's plan," or whatever bullshit they manufacture to absolve themselves of any guilt. It's certainly what Tom and Chris are both telling themselves, after they fuck her and leave her dry.
It's funny how we tell women they should not worry so much about their looks, and then the world bows down to them, or despises them, or wants them to be dolts, because it just wouldn't be fair for someone to have both beauty and intelligence. Enough actually acknowledge beauty on a regular basis, and then maintain that it should not be acknowledged. So hypocritical. How dare she play her card of beauty and use it? No, it's not proper for a beautiful woman to be aware of her beauty. It's vain. But if someone else sees it and lusts after it, and must put a notch in the old belt, well, that's just the way of the world.
Damn whoever invented the mirror, or first saw their own face in a stream. A flower is not supposed to look at itself and know that it has the power to charm. It's just supposed to surrender it's beauty for everyone to partake of, for everyone to drain dry. And if the flower begins to know itself, and to enjoy it's own beauty, well then it is dangerous. It's Lilith. It's a temptress. It's a femme fatale. It's Nola.
She's no more a femme fatale, than Chris is a charismatic asshole. She has beauty. He has charisma. Each uses their cards in their own way. He's not better than her because the card he got dealt was charisma. He just played his card better. And in the end what did he get? Misery he must sweep under the carpet, to spread the veneer of happiness over himself.
I'm down with Nora man. She was playing the same game that Chris was playing...trying to use her cards to win a good hand. Only, her flaw: she's not ruthless like Chris. But that's her saving grace. It's also her swan song.
And what of Tom and Chloe? Aren't they using their wealth and privelege to make a perfect match? Aren't they just as manipulative? Don't they both want what they want when they want it?
So maybe it's luck, or maybe it's God, or maybe it's both, with a little ruthlessness thrown in for good measure that gets the worldly goods. And the person who can pull the trigger is the one who wins, or is it? Is getting what you want in this lifetime really the ultimate be all and end all?
In truth, I think the whole movie was a tragicomedic parody of what too often happens in real life, and Chris was just as much a victim as Nora; as was Tom, as was Chloe. None of them were lucky. It isn't about luck, anymore than it's about karma. It's somewhere in the middle. The middle path is graceful like a swan.
My mind is made up...not like my bed, which is a mess.
This post was edited by rosyxxx on Mar 06, 2006.