Given the recent headlines concerning the extramarital escapades of Tiger Woods and Jesse James, the premise of Atom Egoyan’s erotically-charged film Chloe reminds us of something that should come as no surprise to anybody — a cell phone is not a cheating spouse’s best friend. When the specter of possible infidelity looms over a couple whose married live has grown stale, a wife chooses an unusual method of testing her husband faithfulness.
Outwardly, Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) and husband David (Liam Neeson) appear to have a picture-perfect marriage. Both are successful professionals — she’s a gynecologist; he’s a music professor. They own a luxurious home they share with their teenage son Michael (Max Thieriot). But all is not what it seems. Passion and intimacy have drained out of their marriage leaving Catherine frustrated as she watches David flirt with other women.
Catherine’s insecurities are heightened when she finds a suspicious text message on David’s cell phone that implies he’s cheating on her with one of his students. But she doesn’t have proof anything really happened. Does Catherine confront him? No. Instead she hires a high-class escort named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce David and report back all the salacious details. The question is, does David take the bait?
Appearances can be deceiving. In Chloe, Egoyan explores what lurks beneath the surface of his characters’ lives, a theme common to all his work. He eschews the trite, formulaic recipe for filmmaking to tell character-driven stories that delve into the shadowy side of human behavior and, in the case of this film, expose the dark, sexual impulses that the civilizing institutions of law, religion, marriage, and morality can contain but never conquer. Secrets are revealed, assumptions prove false, and Chloe, David, and Catherine each experience an epiphany that changes their lives. My advice to viewers of this film — indeed for all Egoyan films — is, expect the unexpected.
What’s so compelling about Chloe is its honest depiction of what can happen when personal boundaries between strangers are violated and a couple’s sexual needs are displaced only to resurface in the forbidden realm of adultery. Egoyan possesses a more sophisticated view of complex sexual dynamics. Feminist politics, by comparison, attempt to reduce sexual relations to a simple negotiation of “yes always means yes” and “no always means no” not understanding that our sexual impulses are a psycho-biological function that can’t always be neatly negotiated away without possible adverse consequences. When emotions and passions are engaged, potential danger exists for the parties involved.
Catherine’s ill-advised relationship with Chloe takes an unexpected turn that places her family in such danger. She becomes aroused by her detailed recital of her heated encounters with David. Chloe is engaged in a seduction, but of whom? She may have motives other than financial ones for helping Catherine.
Both Moore and Seyfried deliver layered performances in their respective roles. A risk taker who has built a career on tackling out-of-the-ordinary characters, Moore impressed me once again with her understated portrayal of Catherine. As for Seyfried, initially I felt she was inappropriate for the part of Chloe. It is a great risk for any actor to play against type. But Seyfried stepped away from the sweet and innocent persona, for which audiences have come to love her, to embrace the role of an enigmatic seductress. The subtle shadings in her performance register the vulnerability and instability beneath Chloe’s faà§ade. Clearly, Seyfried has hidden depths as an actor. I’m glad she took the gamble.
I applaud Moore and Seyfried for their courage to play the movie’s explicit nude love scene. I don’t have any problems with nudity or simulated sex in films, but even I felt a bit uncomfortable watching them together.
The hypnotic score by Mychael Danna lures in the audience in much the same way that Chloe seduces Catherine and along with the stunning photography, enhances the film’s lush atmosphere.
With characteristic sophistication, subtlety, and sense for the ironic, Egoyan conjures up another challenging, yet deeply satisfying film with Chloe, exploring the complexities of eroticism. This director doesn’t underestimate the audience’s intelligence. He engages the intellect as well as the emotions, forcing viewers to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions. In that sense he’s unique in that he doesn’t provide neat answers so much as raise more questions.