Rated R. As much as it is about a thriller about a man who wants to kill a prostitute, it also is a look at what it means to be a prostitute. Because of the sexual content, there is a casual nature towards nudity at times. Similarly, the movie does look at the effects of drugs. I don't remember anyone actually taking drugs on screen. The movie also is pretty violent, if you take into consideration some of the things said in a threatening manner. It's a pretty dark movie overall. R.
DIRECTOR: Alan J. Pakula
I love when my mom buys something off of my Amazon wish list and it ends up being wildly awkward. It keeps happening. The darkest stuff in my collection tends to be given as gifts. Since I collect Criterion releases, I often don't know about the content of the movie before I put it on the list. I just saw a movie that starred Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. It's not like the movie is the most disturbing movie out there. But it is a pretty bleak look at the world of prostitution. You know, that's something that my mom probably didn't know when she bought it for me. Regardless, thanks, Mom! (Genuinely. I enjoyed the movie and it's got rad box art.)
My central argument about this movie is the name of the film. I know that there's a tradition in these kinds of movies to name the film after the male protagonist. I'm sure that there was a hope that Klute would take off in a series of films based after John Klute. Maybe a Klute's Return, Klute's Revenge, and Get Klute! But, alas, there's only one Klute film. But my big takeaway from this film is that this movie shouldn't be called Klute whatsoever. My small reason is that John Klute, as portrayed by Donald Sutherland, is without personality. Often, the protagonist acts as an avatar for the audience. But in the case of Klute, the titular hero is borderline just a substitute for the camera. He has absolutely no personality. That comes from the idea that Klute comes from a quiet suburban community and he's flung into the big city. To do this, the authors decide to make him withdrawn and quiet. After all, the city needs to be loud and bombastic. To give Klute a sense of fish-out-of-waterness, he is almost silent throughout the entire film. This means that most of his choices throughout the movie are reaction to stimuli. He's rarely the force of nature that a heroic protagonist is.
So if Klute himself is a church mouse, why isn't the film called "Bree". Because the film is about Bree, no doubt about that. Honestly, I don't think that the actual investigation is all that important. I cared so little about the Tom Gruberman storyline. Instead, I was really interested in what made Bree the way that she was. There are a bunch of scenes with Bree in therapy. We see all of this self-destructive behavior throughout the film. She is a prostitute who doesn't want to be in the life anymore. She went from having this great apartment and making tons of cash to someone who intentionally takes less money to live in what she considers squalor. But she keeps dabbling in that life. The movie doesn't portray her as happy or unhappy. Instead, it gives a far more complex reaction to a difficult situation. She acknowledges the power and control that she has in these situations brings her pleasure, even if she doesn't physically feel that excitement. But then she's also disappointment in her own lack of control in accepting these calls. It's this great duality of character. We see that, overall, she's miserable. But Fonda never really plays "miserable." She plays frustrated and annoyed by a lifetime of small choices that have gotten her in this place where she's worried about someone abusing her.
I'm really going to be on this thread, so just hang in there. When I think about this script, Donald Sutherland, the titular actor, has basically nothing to say. But the camera is on Fonda for the majority of the movie. It's so interesting, thinking of Fonda as this public figure. This is the role that won her the Academy Award. According to Wikipedia (and I'm an English teacher!), she followed around and lived with prostitutes. She has this sympathy towards her role in this movie that is so powerful. There's all this discussion about whether sex work should be regulated. There's no political background behind including Bree as such a prominent character in this movie, but Fonda reminds us of the humanity behind people who live this kind of life. Similarly, we assume that prostitution is one thing and the movie really contrasts Bree with what we associate with prostitution. We have the character of Arlyn. The movie stresses that this isn't one person representing a concept, but rather that people are people, regardless of employment or background.
I want to look at the end. I'm not sure if the movie knew what to do with the end. It's really weird that Bree is in love with Klute. It feels really artificial. It's part of the male fantasy to save someone who is vulnerable. It's part of what Bree sees in Klute immediately. But I don't know what Klute would see in Bree, shy of the fact that she's physically attractive. Remember, Klute has no personality. He rebuffs Bree's advances until she needs to stay there. But Bree treats him like dirt for the majority of the piece. But when she's at her therapist, she confesses that she's never felt this way about another human being. She's never been romantically attached to any of her johns. This is one of those tacked on relationships that actually opens the door to an interesting discussion. Bree ends the movie saying that there's no way that she could leave the big city, as much as she cares for John (I just got that his name is "John"). She says that she cares for him. When the phone rings and she gets another job, we get the mislead that she is going to continue hooking. But then she walks out the door with Klute and into her new life. This is one of those moments to imply that she's changed. But Fonda's voiceover tells a very different story. It says that she'll probably be back next week. It's an interesting story to tell. As the audience, we have a choice in this moment. We can say that this is all bluster, because Bree has been known to use bluster to compensate for the fact that she refuses to be vulnerable. Or it could be the honest truth. Part of me loves the ambiguity of this moment.
Because that belief that Klute can save Bree through love, as cynical as this is, seems to not match the message of the film. Bree is in therapy. Great. But it seems like Bree has a long way to go before she can start living a healthy life. It is hopeful that she's willing to leave her apartment, but what is that relationship going to look like? I can't stress enough that Bree is this well-developed character, so how can she stand the smallness of John Klute's life? Yeah, it's a bit cynical for me, as I mentioned. But it also seems to match what the story is telling. I mean, look at how Bree treats herself in that club. There's this person who just needs to let the crowd take her. She can be helped. Totally. But I don't know if a romantic relationship can help her. That feels Hollywood. But that last line of dialogue really sells that idea better.
It's so odd, that I like Klute not for the movie it presents, but for the movie it doesn't show. The Ted Gruberman / Mystery Man storyline is kind of a waste. Instead, that fear that is placed over the story is far more interesting. It's a very quiet movie about a woman who just wants to find herself. Jane Fonda totally deserved the Academy Award for that role because she's the best part of the movie. It doesn't need to be a thriller. It needs to be a story about a woman who is dealing with a mix of shame and pride. It's far more fascinating looking at that element.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.