Monday, July 9, 2012

Savages: Box Office Representation of a Poly Triad

Rarely does a movie come along that represents polyamory in any way, much less a summer blockbuster.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had hints -- while not expressly stating that Butch and Sundance were both in a relationship with Etta, the montage scene left me with that feeling.

The movie obviously left some directors with the same feeling.  It seems like most poly triads on screen have a Butch Cassidy flavor.  From our very small sampling of only two films, we always see two bonded males, who happen to be lovable criminals, in an equal "V" relationship with one girl.  Bandits from 2001 is about two bank robbers who [Spoiler!!] both end up loving the same unhappy housewife -- without the jealous love triangle where she must choose between them.

And this year, we have Oliver Stone's crime thriller, Savages, which begins with a V relationship between O and her two pot-growing criminal lovers, Ben and Chon.  As we know from the trailer, two men love the same woman.  The poly relationship itself is not part of the plot conflict.  We are not meant to question their love for one another.  We are not meant to feel tension between them.  We are meant to accept that these two men love O, and that she loves them back in equal measure.

The relationship is displayed expertly.  Blake Lively, who plays O, did remarkable acting, showing what it is like to belong to two lovers, almost as if she's lived the life.  I have experienced what she portrayed.  The subtle way you consciously try to spread attention evenly when both are in the room; to divide touches and glances and smiles.  Enjoying the different energies between both people.

One lover, Chon, is strong, emotionally closed-off, a war hero, a tough guy, a protector.  The other is a brilliant botanist, a lover, a tender and spiritual man who travels the world to help people.  Together, as O says, they make one complete man.  To paraphrase her, they fill different needs in her life, one just as important as the other.  O has quite a number of lines reflecting on what it is like to love two men, and it is this kind of love poetry that I, as a poly person, enjoyed finally seeing represented on screen.

Both men are equally needed to rescue her when she is abducted by a competing drug cartel.  Their talents -- those of the Gun and the Brain -- work in tandem, whereas alone, each would be helpless.

Nothing proves a vacuum more than when that vacuum is suddenly filled in with something.  In this case, it was the feeling of sitting in the theater watching a representation of my relationship unfold.  Savages is the first mainstream film to display a fully-realized poly triad.  I wanted to compare it to Bound, a 1996 crime thriller featuring two lesbians, but that was more of a niche film, not exposed to the masses. It is more like polyamory's Brokeback Mountain, though Savages is not a romance... Brokeback brought a gay relationship into mainstream film, which helped straight audiences become more comfortable with the idea that men could love one another, too.  It allowed viewers to sympathize with gay men, even though they were not gay themselves.  Savages does the same for polyamory.  Two men can love one woman (or in my case, one woman can love a man and a woman), and anyone who has seen Savages will not find that notion so strange anymore.

Nevertheless, some critics are incredulous.  Joshua Rothkopf of Timeout New York says sharing a woman is "unrealistic".  Jesse Cataldo of Slant Magazine says the relationship is uncompelling, though that may be a reference to the acting or writing, not the situation itself.

Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald has the worst to say:
Those early scenes also introduce one of Savages’ more preposterous conceits: The lovely, bird-brained Ophelia (Blake Lively), who prefers to go by “O” and lives in carnal communion with the two guys, letting them take turns with her in the sack, and sometimes just sharing her bed with both of them at the same time. Even for an Oliver Stone movie, the scenario is an awful lot to swallow. What kind of woman would ever agree to this? What two heterosexual men, no matter how close, would be comfortable with this arrangement? But you go with it, at least initially, because the entire plot hinges on their harmonious three-way union, a bromance with a woman thrown in for sexual release.
I'm that kind of woman, thank you very much.  And I take umbrage that O is only thrown in for sexual release.  Can't women make our own choices without it being about pleasing men?

As a thriller, it's entertaining.  It certainly isn't Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (my favorite crime movie), but it definitely holds its own.  It was well-acted by most players.

O's character suffered from some poor character development that I blame the writers for.  I found myself sympathizing with her vicariously but not directly.  I sympathized for her because I sympathized with her lovers.  I would have liked to have cared more about O, which could have easily been done by giving her some individual hopes and dreams, or let her make a couple of choices to define her character.

The story held together and drew me in.  These days I'm analyzing every movie for story elements, and Savages did a great job of all the technical aspects, like foreshadowing, dialog, exposition, backstory, and character development (with the exception of O).

Certain moments were exceptionally violent and gory.  Nothing worse than what you'd expect for this genre, especially if you've seen anything by Quentin Tarantino.

If you like crime movies, see this film.  If you're poly, see this film.  If you're monogamous, but want to see a realistic portrayal of a committed poly triad, see this film.

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