The Center of the World
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Molly Parker, Peter Sarsgaard. The controversial, critically acclaimed erotic battle of wills between a computer genius and a stripper. 2001/color/88 min/NR.
The titular center of the world is a matter of perspective in Wayne Wang's (The Joy Luck Club, Smoke) notorious, explicit drama of emotional isolation and sexual commerce in the modern world. According to rich, apathetic cyber-geek Peter Sarsgaard (Boys Don't Cry), it's his home computer. Amateur rock & roll drummer and part-time stripper Molly Parker (Wonderland) deems it an erotic part of the female anatomy. Their "date" is merely a sexual contract that takes them to Las Vegas, a place as phony and impersonal as their so-called romance. "You know it's just an act, right?" she reminds him between her slinky bump-and-grind striptease shows and their sweaty sexual gymnastics.
The Internet makes a great metaphor for modern social alienation, with its impersonal communication and virtual sex, but there's not much else new in this familiar story other than the erotic content. Shot on dimly lit, high-definition video, the gray, washed palette sucks the glamour and titillation right out of the spectacle, turning it into an empty, soulless exercise in physical sensation and self delusion--appropriate to this story of lonely souls unable to break through their own isolation. --Sean Axmaker
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In an interview, director and co-writer Wang (" Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Smoke, Joy Luck Club") makes an interesting comment about how the film had it's genesis in a visit he made to the Silicon Valley area, where, at the time, there was a serious imbalance in the gender ratio of the areas' population, something akin to eight or more single men to every single woman. And with all the ready money in the post dot.com-bust economy of the time, gave rise to a huge market for strippers, call girls and dating services.
The film didn't have the strongest reception from the critics, which I thought was undeserved. Wang and his co-writers, Paul Auster ("Smoke, Lulu on the Bridge") Miranda July ("You Me & Everyone We Know") did a great job getting into the characters heads and the performances of the leads is some of the best work I've seen from either actor. Carla Gugino (the first Silk Spectre in "Watchmen") also has a supporting role as a long time friend of Parker's character.
We never learn what has caused their alienation but it's not important. In the case of Richard, a successful computer geek, it is at least part of what has enabled him to immerse himself in work (some people believe that working long hours away from people have caused his neurosis but that is less likely). In Florence' case it enables her to earn her living performing lap dances for strangers. In both cases their coping mechanism is reinforced by its success.
Florence is more aware of her coping mechanism and therefore realistic about it. Richard, suffering from over work, loneliness, the pressure of an impending IPO and the recent death of his father hasn't got a clue. He meets Florence, learns that she is a stripper and invites her to a weekend in Vegas. After being turned down he offers to pay for her company (!). She is hip and knows nothing can come of this even after she later develops conflicting feelings.
The "exotic" dancing is at least erotic, a lot more than I can say for the films, Exotica, Dancing at the Blue Iguana, Showgirls and Striptease. That's probably because there was at least a psychological connection between the two characters. I did feel sympathetic to them unlike anyone in those other films. The woman is at her sexiest when she is fully clothed and beaming straight into the man's eyes, lending proof to the adage that sex is 90% psychology.
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