Love and desire are challenging, and there are times when they feel more complicated than a flat-pack wardrobe missing its instructions. Love is a Many-Splintered Thing explores ten movies where the quest for love or desire for sex is far more trouble than it’s worth.
MEET JOE BLACK (1998)
Here’s a tricky one. You meet the man of your dreams (hell, anyone’s dreams!) in a coffee shop, where you get talking, even though you are already committed to a far more dull fellow. As you depart the coffee shop, you know you will never meet this gorgeous young man again. So when this random hunk appears mysteriously at your father’s side, you are taken aback. However, what is even more strange is that he now carries a mysterious air and the emotional wonder of a child.
What you don’t know is that this beautiful stranger is, in fact, death. That’s right, death! Unfortunately, the man you met in the coffee shop didn’t look twice before crossing the road (a fatal mistake). As the man lay dying from multiple injuries, death saw an opportunity for life by stealing the sexy guy’s body, with a mission to experience love for the first time. Susan is unaware that Death (Brad Pitt) has made a secret deal with her father (Anthony Hopkins), which would bring the gorgeous coffee shop boy back to life if Hopkins took his place.
Most sane people would run a mile at this point, but when death looks this pretty, how can you avoid his allure? For Susan, remaining single and moving to a monastery would have undoubtedly been a safer option.
THE LOVED ONES (2009)
Do you remember those innocent school days making out behind the bike sheds? Well, The Loved Ones is about to pour petrol over those memories before devilishly dancing around the roaring fire. If there’s one film on this list that will have you thanking the heavens for your single life, it’s this one. After all, it’s a gruesome Aussie tale of sexual obsession, psycho parents and forced lobotomies that will have you regurgitating your heart-shaped chocolates. Sean Byrne’s movie is a relatively unknown and deliciously twisted horror gem where the high school prom is unceremoniously turned on its head in a whirlwind of gore, drills and cerebral trauma. The quiet, outcast and edgy Lola Stone is determined to find her perfect prom date and has her eyes set on grungy Brent (Xavier Samuel). However, this is going to be a date like no other, one where the whole family are invited to a celebration of ropes, nails, drills and paper hats.
LOVE IS A MANY-SPLINTERED THING
UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2018)
Sam (Andrew Garfield) is a 30-something slacker living on his own in an apartment he cannot afford. Sam’s days are spent looking for no-strings sex, chain-smoking and comics as he tries to dodge the landlord at every opportunity. His very existence is one of habit and repetition as he watches the city around him consume everyone it invites into its circus. But, one afternoon, as Sam sits spying on neighbours, he finds himself fascinated by an attractive newcomer in the communal swimming pool, the mysterious Sarah (Riley Keough). But just as Sam gets close to Sarah in a haze of weed, she vanishes; her apartment cleared overnight, almost as if she never existed. Offering us a love letter to Hitchcock, Lynch and Kubrick, director David Robert Mitchell takes us down a rabbit hole of desire, uncertainty, and intrigue as Sam desperately seeks understanding and closure.
Do you ever watch an 80s movie and wonder, “How did this ever reach cinemas?” Mannequin is one of those movies, yet, it’s also got something that keeps people coming back thirty-five years later. Is it the soundtrack? Andrew McCarthy’s boyish charm? Or is it Kim Cattrall’s beauty? In my opinion, what continues to pull people back to Mannequin is the utterly ridiculous yet strangely intriguing premise and the atrocious screenplay that surrounds it. In many ways, Mannequin is so bad, it’s good!
This is the story of a struggling artist (McCarthy) who has more than a passing love for shop mannequins. Each to his own, of course. When a mannequin magically comes to life, this struggling artist finds his creative voice and, in the process, saves Timpkin’s Department Store from closure. However, the mannequin is far more than a magic hunk of plastic; she is an ancient Egyptian goddess with a soft spot for 80s culture, boys in tailored trousers and lavish shop window displays.
It’s clear that director Michael Gottlieb intended to offer audiences a modern take on the legend of Pygmalion (Metamorphoses) and the 1948 movie One Touch of Venus. But instead, we ended up with a very 80s romantic comedy that appears to have been written on the back of a cigarette packet. However, Gottlieb also gave us a supporting lead who was black, gay and not dying of AIDS; a bold move in 1987, even if the stereotypes attached to ‘Hollywood’ are now difficult to watch. At its heart, Mannequin is a film about sexuality, desire and a plastic fetish, and that’s a damn rare thing outside of the horror genre.
Slipping under the radar in the UK, Jonathan, aka Duplicate, is a hidden sci-fi gem exploring themes more commonly found in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or The Outer Limits. This is a tale of two separate personalities inhabiting the same body, one studious, organised and controlled and the other energetic, free-thinking and rebellious. Jonathan asks us what would happen if one of these personalities became romantically involved without the other’s knowledge or permission. Ansel Elgort beautifully encapsulates the trials and tribulations of both John and Jonathan, building audience empathy for both of the unique personas on display. Unfortunately for John and Jonathan, sex and love will ultimately lead to separation and distrust, which is deeply problematic when you share the same body.
LOVE IS A MANY-SPLINTERED THING
WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
The average teenage boy spends at least two years locked in their bedroom, slowly working through a year’s supply of tissues while fantasising about sex. Many of the sexual ideas that swim around the young male mind are based on pure fantasy, and many will never be experienced or enacted in later life. Weird Science understands the teenage male adolescent mind better than its given credit for, as it reminds us all that our teenage dreams are often far more exciting than reality. Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) are on a mission to shed their geek label and harness deep dark magic and a sprinkling of new tech to make the perfect woman. But sometimes dreams come at a cost when all you really need is a good cuddle.
So why not take a trip back to those innocent days before internet porn and dating apps, days when the mysterious and exciting new world of sex still needed a bit of teenage imagination and creativity. John Hughes loosely based Weird Science on the pre-Comics Code EC Comics titles of the same name, which also inspired a young Stephen King. But in Hughes’ world, the horror is replaced by laugh-out-loud comedy as Wallace and Donnelly desperately try to improve their street cred while battling the demands of their erections.
THE BEACH (2000)
Do you remember the adventure, opportunity, desire and wanderlust that followed you like a shadow during your late teens and twenties? This wanderlust sits at the heart of Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel alongside a darker story of decaying innocence and escape. As we follow our intrepid young backpacker Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio), his journey morphs from adventure to deception and loss as sex and desire clash with a fairytale notion of escape. Throughout Richard’s journey, the phrase “two’s company, three’s a crowd” rings in our ears as a complicated friendship born from adventure leads to individual destruction within a Garden of Eden that is, in fact, a sun-soaked prison.
LOVE IS A MANY-SPLINTERED THING
I LOVE YOU TO DEATH (1990)
Lawrence Kasdan’s deliciously dark comedy about marriage, murder and mascarpone is loosely based on the 1983 trial of Frances Toto, a woman who repeatedly tried to kill her husband with little success. For his fictionalised comedy of errors, Kasden brings together a truly sublime cast, including Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, Joan Plowright, River Phoenix, William Hurt, and Keanu Reeves, in creating an entertaining and sharp comedy. Exploring themes of revenge, love, coercion and forgiveness, I Love You to Death proves marriage can indeed be murder. So, pour a glass of wine and order a takeout pizza, but whatever you do, don’t invite the pizza delivery guy to join you on the sofa.
Leo appears to have no luck in love with the characters he plays – in The Beach, Richard is the third spoke in a complicated love wheel, and then in Titanic, Jack meets the rich girl of his dreams on a doomed ship. In both cases, Leo’s character would have been better staying a charming and sexy bachelor. However, hindsight is a wonderful and profoundly unhelpful thing! The ship in question is the fated RMS Titanic, and Jack is an aspiring artist working his way back to the United States of America after a stint painting prostitutes in Paris. As Jack walks the ship’s deck, he meets the depressed Rose (Kate Winslett), and his life instantly takes a decidedly deadly turn. The pair become acquainted through Rose attempting suicide, which is not the best introduction, as I am sure you will agree. Jack saves her life and sees an opportunity to make mini Jack’s along the way. However, once again, I digress, as before this, we have a sweet little romance that includes some sketching, spitting and dancing before a heated shag on the cargo deck.
By the time the dreaded iceberg comes into view, the two are inseparable despite the snobbery and hate surrounding Jack’s presence. Therefore, it is all the more depressing that as the ship goes down, Jack is left to freeze in the water as Rose hogs a door plenty big enough for his slight frame.
LOVE IS A MANY-SPLINTERED THING
Are you dreaming of a luxurious vacation following the oppressive boredom of the global pandemic? If so, how about a leisurely trip out to sea on a yacht owned by your best friend? It all sounds so idyllic. But add to the holiday a brutal brawl just a few hours before departure over a girl and a toxic friendship based on jealousy, secrets and lies, and maybe the planned excursion wasn’t the best idea. Thus begins Canadian writer/director Rob Grant’s delicious tale of friendship, betrayal and bloody revenge starring Munro Chambers, Chris Gray and Emily Tyra. Harpoon is packed to the gunnels with survival movie clichés, richly dark comedy and wince-inducing bodily trauma as the ocean gobbles up our dysfunctional trio. Taking its inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ and lacing this with the true story of the ‘Mignonette’ from 1884. Harpoon is a darkly delicious joy that offers us a beautifully twisted finale.