This is a feature I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Semi-regularly I’m going to post transcrips of semi-stereotypical college bull sessions between me and my brilliant and talented friends. This also coming with the gradual switch from 24 Percent as a Malcolm blog to a collective blog with other regular contributors.
For the first session, Bob and I will not be distributing dating advice (thank god) but will be discussing Steven Soderbergh’s new movie. To see what the director of the film says, check out Salon film critic Andrew O’Hehir’s interview that I linked to earlier this week. To see what Bob and I say, follow us down the rabbit hole. Just as a note, there are tons of spoilers, but the movie has a fragmented time-sequence, so it really doesn’t matter if you go in knowing the plot. You can check out the trailer below.
Malcolm: Let me say, first off, this shit would make this a lot easier.
Bob: The Girlfriend Experience.
Malcolm: Yes. Okay, so what I liked about it is that, honestly, I didn’t know what a Marxist movie would look like (besides Eisenstein or something) and it wasn’t so much that the content was Marxist, it didn’t have some message of class-consciousness or anything, it was the mode of analysis. Everything that happens in the film is the result of property relations.
Bob: I would have to agree. Steven Soderbergh does a fantastic job laying a out a post-modern critique of late capitalism. The main characters are a pair of service workers Chris and Chelsea (or Christine, we don’t really know) in the midst of the 2008 presidential election, the financial crisis, and the collective despair of post-modern life. Despite all the talk of money and commodities, nothing is ever produced in the film.
Malcolm: Ever, no one even makes dinner everything is a commodity, from sex to fitness to relationships.
Bob: And all of these things are first: excesses and second: embodied transactions.
Malcolm: Let’s take a look at Christine’s relationship with Chris. First of all, Chris and Christine?
Bob: Chris and Chelsea.
Malcolm: Are these characters really abstractions?
Bob: I mean the movie itself is an abstraction.
Bob: No, its an analytic its a tool for conceptualizing our current condition.
Malcolm: They don’t especially have personalities or hobbies.
Bob: But no one in the movie does
– they only have jobs
except for the rich people (aka the power elite) they only have excess.
Malcolm: The boundaries of labor and free time fall apart because in a service industry, especially jobs like escort or personal trainer, the distinctions fall away when your clients want something like the “real you” and I think the movie asks if that exists. And this is where (to be a douche) post-modernism really does come in.
Bob: You say douche but this is where Soderbergh really shows his skill because the film is very un-douche-y look at capitalism. The characters seem to be working, even when they are doing solitary things, like the scene where Chris is running through the city or when Chelsea is talking about one of her clients asking her to masturbate.Malcolm: The extended silence when Christine’s friend assumes a difference between her relationships to her clients and with Chris is painful. The movie hinges in that silence
. The question in that silence is about dualism, is there a depth beneath the surfaces, or is it all surfaces, which is one of the main questions of post-modernism. I’m honestly not sure on which side the film falls.
Bob: The relationships in the film seem to be the only thing that we see produced. Chris and Chelsea themselves are what is being produced. The title of the film, The Girlfriend Experience, is what Chelsea is selling, and she isn’t just selling it to her clients.
Malcolm: There’s that one discussion she has with a client about transactional relationships and everyone wanting something for nothing, when the truth is all relationships are transactional.
Bob: Or, on the other hand, everyone she interacts with in the film becomes a client.
Bob: When the movie opens it seemed very clear that the man Chelsea was with was her boyfriend.
Malcolm: Well that appearance is what she’s selling.
Bob: Sure, but we don’t know anything about her or about her situation at that point in the film.
Malcolm: But we do, there are serious expectations going in.
Malcolm: Let’s talk about casting Sasha Grae and then having no sex in the film.
Bob: She’s done quite a bit of porn, right?
Malcolm: So I hear.
Bob: And her performance is far from stellar, in terms of acting, yet it works with the rest of the film.
Malcolm: It’s hard to tell without seeing her other work whether the part demanded her flatness, or whether she’s just flat . . . acting-wise.
Bob: Fair enough, but Chelsea’s character is completely unlikable. And that inability for the viewer to relate carries to most of the film’s other characters.
Malcolm: I wouldn’t say completely, she feels, she has this love of astrology that makes her somewhat human.
Bob: I think the love of astrology makes her feel somewhat human, not appear more human or be more human.
Malcolm: I take back the hobby comment earlier, that is a hobby.
Bob: Just like religion helps a lot of people in this country justify their existence, their job, their relationships with other people astrology has this function for Chelsea. But its not a hobby, its part of her work.Its her truth beyond herself. She doesn’t do astrology for shits and giggles, she uses it to guide her life.
Malcolm: Everything has to relate to her job.
Bob: Look at the scene with her and Chris. Chris says the astrology is bullshit and that he was just nodding his head to placate her (or for the sex) since the beginning of their relationship. And Chelsea flips out.
Malcolm: Well look at astrology It guarantees some sort of soul or mystical level, something beneath the surfaces but when the man with whom her birthday fits leaves, she’s left without the only thing that assured her depth exists. Surfaces literally with clothes, there’s a constant description of her clothes.
Bob: Again, it is part of her occupation, which is her life, which is completely transactional.
Malcolm: I thought you said something great earlier, about Chris coaching Christine in the bar.
Bob: He, just like Chelsea, is always working. The scene is the bar is just another example. He is being her personal trainer, telling her she is the best and can do whatever she puts her mind to, etc. And the a-chronological narrative supports this argument; that relations of capital pervade and shape the quotidian.
Malcolm: Yeah, let’s talk about the narrative
Bob: There is no climax. There is no beginning or end.
Malcolm: It’s incredibly fractured, no coherence or context.
Bob: There is maybe one real plot point, but we know the outcome before it happens. More than that, though, different scenes reference each other.
Malcolm: Do you feel sorry for Christine when her dream guy doesn’t show up?
Bob: No. I don’t like Chelsea.
Malcolm: But late capitalism isn’t her fault… Don’t hate the player, hate the game!
Bob: But late capitalism has this power to alienate people from each other and the film really shows that. You don’t like any of the characters.
Malcolm: I don’t feel that same dislike.
Bob: They all are terribly flat and predictable and selfish.
Malcolm: Maybe a little revulsion. Part of that might be that we don’t have idealized conversation in the movie The conversation about Man on Wire was really banal but most conversations about the movie probably were banal in real life we can’t blame the characters for their lack of witty dialog.
Bob: This is the conversation between Chelsea and her client at the opening of the film right?
Malcolm: Yeah, on their date.
Bob: And that’s what is seems like, a real, live, typical date.
Malcolm: Right, and the film asks whether in a way it is a typical date (caveating out dumb equivocations that make all woman into sex workers).
Bob: Well it was perfectly normal and drama free, things that escape many “real” dates.
Malcolm: At the end of the day, service sector is service sector.
Bob: For a substantial portion of the film we don’t know what the relationship between Chris and Chelsea is. Is it escort/client, boyfriend/girlfriend, brother/sister, roomies, etc.
Malcolm: They have demanding jobs, we don’t see them together a lot. Because their work is catered to others’ leisure time.
Bob: Their apartment is the most that they have in common.And its a stylish Manhattan apartment. Completely clean. almost resembling the hotels Chelsea and her clients frequent.
Malcolm: There is a level of similarity there, and everywhere, but I think their relationship is made clear.
Bob: If I were to watch the film again, their relationship would probably be much more clear. But looking back on the film, the day after watching it, my mind wants to take all of these atemporally presented scenes into some sort of chronology and so a lot of the aesthetic or other, more subtle cues are lost.
Malcolm: Psh, that’s so modernist.
Bob: Word, its a reflection of my modern Amerikkkan education. Speaking of which, there is one person of color in the film.
Bob: Okay, right. One of the trainers is African American, as is one of the rich dudes.
Malcolm: Probably a semi-accurate representation of that class strata, but an important observation
Bob: There is just so much this film has to talk about, and it ins’t all that long, only 78 minutes.
Malcolm: Yeah, I appreciated how compact it was, it felt like everything was in its right place. Overall it was a really great film.
Malcolm: The problem with bull sessions is they don’t really have conclusions…
Bob: I think we can conclude that this film is a critique of late capitalism and an exploration of the pervasive role of transaction in everyday life.
Malcolm: No one’s grading us, I reject the teleological necessity of a conclusion.
Bob: Psh, that’s so post-modern.