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by Angela Spencer / 02.09.2010

Dr Catherine Stewart is lost. Although she’s a successful gynaecologist, she no longer knows how to seduce David, her husband, and feels invisible in a world of younger and supposedly more beautiful women. The men around her are obsessed with girls – her teenage son is sleeping with his sweetheart under her roof, her male colleague has a partner half his age and David, a university professor, is constantly chatting to his young students. Things come to a head when she organises David a surprise birthday party; the surprise is that he fails to arrive home – in circumstances that suggest an affair.

Catherine is wealthy; money is the one resource she has access to. She has noticed a gorgeous young prostitute near her clinic and employs her to ensnare the caddish David. This youngster, Chloë, quickly falls in love with Catherine – and tells her so – but although Catherine desires Chloë she is unable to see her in any role other than service provider.

Welcome to the perverse insinuating world of Canadian indie film-maker, Atom Egoyan, whose films include Exotica, Where the Truth Lies and his masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter.


The opening scene of his latest shows Chloë saying it’s part of her job to create a fantasy for her customers – to tell them what they want to hear. Chloë believes her job is to build a scenario for Catherine in which she can avenge her cheating husband – by doing some cheating herself. Chloë performs this role very well, thus creating an enormous misunderstanding and opfokkerasie-storie. For the acquisitive Catherine, Chloë is a proxy through which to re-seduce her husband. She is also the creator of a narrative in which Catherine can be simultaneously aroused and tortured by the prospect of her objects of desire pleasuring one another.

Catherine eventually succumbs to Chloë’s charms after Chloë reports David has done the same. For Catherine this is a neat denouement – she can indulge her sexual curiosity and punish her husband without threatening her marriage or social position. After all, he strayed first, didn’t he?

Catherine, an educated person, a caring doctor and loving mother, has the emotional depth to understand Chloë and her context; there is no pretence between them that Chloe’s work is anything but awful. However this doesn’t stop Catherine from using Chloë like any other john. Chloë doesn’t realise this until too late and she is completely in love. Catherine tries to brush her off with a big cheque and some ‘straight’ talk – “This business transaction, which is what it was, is over.” (Tellingly, when discussing the same ‘transaction’ with David, she refuses to call it just a fling). “This isn’t about money” says Chloë. “When did this stop being about money, it started with money, it is still about money”, replies Catherine.
Chloë is crushed and angry. Catherine’s brutality is too much for her fragile psyche and we go into Fatal Attraction bunny-boiler territory. But… haven’t we been here a while, or is inviting another woman into your treasured marriage not totally demented?

What else should I say? Great cinematography, excellent performances from Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried, chic interiors, fuck-me shoes – the piece is a visual delight, but you’ll need a strong stomach for this bleak take on the woman who has it all, especially when you see the outrageous act of appropriation in the final scene.

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