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Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on August 31, 2014

The last time I saw this movie was a long time ago, whenever it came out on video (probably 1990-91ish).  It was one of a quartet of films surrounding the NC-17 controversy.  I had seen the other three — Henry & June, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer — and I suppose I must have rented this one to see what the fuss was about.  The content is not at all graphic (unless you’re shocked by pubic hair), but includes a playful look at female masturbation and a sex scene that dares to be realistic.  The movie didn’t leave much of an impression at the time, and it wouldn’t be until many years later that I would come to love Pedro Almodovar through films like All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and most recently, The Skin I Live In.

This one was released after Verge, and uses many of the same sets.  It doesn’t have as much wonderful humor as its predecessor and overall I would still call it middling Almodovar.  But it is very provocative.  It’s hard to know what to do with this movie, how to process it.  The director often explores aberrant sexual desire in his films… the scenario here is echoed later in Talk to Her, in which the protagonist falls in love with a woman in a coma.  The film doesn’t pass judgment in either case (though in the latter, society does).  The movie defies our expectations regarding how a story like this should end up, it goes against our training.

But it doesn’t condone this behavior either.  When the MPAA expressed their concerns that viewers would mimic Ricky’s behavior, Almodovar’s response was that he doesn’t expect his audience to be complete psychopaths.  We are told from the beginning that Ricky is disturbed.  He uses force — and violence — to try to make a woman fall in love with him.  No one should walk away from the picture thinking, “What a grand idea!”.  This is a messed-up person… but he’s still a person.  And Marina is a messed-up person too, and we can acknowledge that a woman who has a hard time keeping her life in order might take Stockholm Syndrome to the next level.  Almodovar isn’t interested in moralizing, not in the least.  He’s putting marginal behavior on the screen and hypothesizing a reasonable (though uncomfortable) way it could play out.  He’s exploring the desires of two damaged people with a sensitivity not borne out of pity but just recognizing them as human beings with flaws… even if those flaws can be despicable.

I keep tossing around the implications in my mind (I won’t even touch on what it means that a homosexual is commenting on heterosexual relationships in this way… that’s a can of worms best left to others).  And that’s a good thing.  The film isn’t as funny as others, nor as touching as I think it’s meant to be.  Almodovar’s usual visual flair is present, but feels a bit subdued here.  Ennio Morricone’s score is not bad, but not one of his best (it’s interesting that he seems to be trying to emulate Herrmann at times, perhaps to give the movie a Hitchcockian mood).  But it does make you think, and Almodovar is gutsy as hell.  Rating: Very Good (80)


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