Sunday, January 16, 2011


 "Lantana" does not embody a story like most movies; it isn't about anything in particular. It's a movie about characters. Not larger-than-life heroes, but characters who succumb to temptation, cheat on their wives, doubt their spouses, make mistakes and suffer consequences. In other words, "Lantana" is about real people. Normal, imperfect people like all of us. Not that everyone behaves like the characters here, but few films capture transgression with such compassion and sympathy.
Jane (Rachel Blake) is the 'separated' adulterer and probably the stupidest character of this ensemble cast. For someone as middle aged as she is, she's almost embarrassingly inexperienced about men (who knows why she's 'separated'). She has the "one-night-stand that happened twice" with the married man because she appears to think that the man's wife is to blame.
Hahahahahaha! Unfortunately she also doesn't know how to keep female friends-certainly not in her current glow of "anything is possible" (yep, gross stupidity is very possible for her). The second powerhouse actor of Lantana (2001) is the fabulous Kerry Armstrong as Leon's wife Sonja. She still burns with the desire to be a passionate, capable, sexy wife, who is also raising two boys while holding down a job and trying to inject sensuality and fun back into her morose, resentful, uncommunicative, robotic (depressed) husband. She even suspects, as most wives sense, that he is having an affair, just from the abnormal way he reacts to everything. So she cracks open her emotional hope chest to a psychiatrist, Dr Valerie Somers (Barbara Hershey).
To our surprise, the psychiatrist herself is on shaky ground. (Never envy anyone else. Chances are, they have their own insoluble problems, no matter who they are. Your problems are yours to keep, they are your own badges of courage. Talking them through is probably the only education or improvement we can hope for: learn from others -YES. Covet their lives? -NO.)
Dr Somers also, for some reason, chooses to waste her entirely non-evident education quizzing her husband about his very sensible attitude to the amount of sex they now have. OK, so they have drawn apart because of their differing personal reactions to the death of their teenage daughter-that much is at least believable. But how can a psychiatrist be so clearly at stage 0 with her own husband? If anything, married people know too much and import too much peripheral baggage with every nuance, every tilt of the head, every tone of voice, etc. They don't have almost teenage conversations like "Do you ever worry that we don't make love very often?" "-No. I mean I don't think about it that much." "Why not?"(in a tone of complete inability to imagine how that might be). "-I love you. Whether we make love three times a week or once a month doesn't really change that ... is this a test?" "No! I was just wondering what you were thinking..." Really? Even after he gave you the answer, you were still only just "wondering"? Pfft, and this woman is supposed to be a shrink! Do any married women out there think this was an intelligent conversation befitting ANY married couple, let alone when one of them is a psychiatrist?!?!
I gotta believe that this conversation really belonged to the other married couple, Paula (Daniela Farinacci) & Nik (Vince "the curls get the girls" Colosimo, from The Wog Boy (1999)), who are at least suitably young.
The psychiatrist and her husband John (Geoffrey Rush) recover their married maturity in the restaurant and in front of the bookshop window that displays her book about Eleanor, their deceased daughter. I don't even mind that they fight the following morning, after having some more of that much-sought-after sex (see? It wasn't worth it. That's called 'perfunctory'), and that their pall of disenchantment/alienation is not lifted. She does seem to be losing her grip in other ways. The ease with which she lets her gay adulterous patient rattle her confidence in herself is very indicative of her mental desperation. Of course her husband was correct that she should refer that pesky patient on, but she stupidly persists because she resents his dismissive tone, and because she paranoiacally imagines the gay patient to be having an affair with her own husband(!!), when all he is is just an immature, arrogant, shallow, offensive bastard. Patrick Phelan, Mr "sex unencumbered by need" (Peter Phelps), just plays her because he senses that she disapproves of his ethics (not his gayness), which, being shallow and arrogant, he doesn't want to give up. Patrick, mate, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. YOU MAY GET IT.
Claudia (Leah Purcell, Leon's female cop partner) is the most together person (because her life remains fairly uncomplicated'-anyone see a lesson in that?). She gives Leon the best advice of his life. It comes as a rhetorical question: "Why are you trying so hard to screw; your life up? You don't know how lucky you are to have the marriage you've got. And you're whizzing all over it." Too true.
What is rewarding is that each and every story arc gets an insightful resolution. Ironically, because of the murder mystery, life goes on. Almost every adult character gets a revelation of their likely future, to show some lessons to the audience. Patrick Phelan gets to suffer in his jocks (quoting Michael Caton from The Castle (1997) here). I don't mind "blowing" the ending to his arc: he gets to stare in envy in the rain at some "ENcumbered need" (there is no such thing as truly unencumbered sex, unless you are non compos mentis-zonked out of your skull at the time; and even then it's doubtful).
Just remember what John confessed, when you see Leon and Sonja dancing, that after you have been caught out in an affair, you are never quite trusted again. Something DOES get broken (watch Sonja's face). It's astonishing to me that people keep walking blindly into that. For what? "Sex unencumbered by need", perhaps? Well, how many affairs turn out that way?

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