Popcorn Love: The Confrontation in Unfaithful (2002)
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 29, 2009
When discussing the merits of a movie like Unfaithful, it’s pretty rare that you get past the sex scenes. And that’s fair enough–they’re some of the hottest ever committed to mainstream celluloid, making for one of the more uncomfortable movie-going experiences I had with my parents (though still ranking an extremely distant #2 to Y Tu Mama Tambien). Diane Lane had never looked sexier, Olivier Martinez had never looked swarthier, and director Adrien Lyne–the guy who made a hit erotic thriller with Michael Douglas and Glenn Close as the leads–was clearly the man for the job when it came to getting the most out of the brief encounters between the two. Their last tryst in particular, a desperate hate-fuck outside of Martinez’s apartment, in particular, I would rank as an all-time top fiver–one that I’ve watched countless times, and which I could pretty much draw frame-for-frame by memory if called on to do so.
Recently, however, I’ve come to realize that the scene that follows shortly thereafter–in which the devestated Richard Gere confronts Martinez in his apartment–is almost as indelible, if for somewhat different reasons. It’s the scene that basically acts as the fulcrum for the movie, the turning point between the guilt, secrecy and ridiculously hot sex of the first half and the guilt, secrecy, and utter lack of ridiculously hot sex in the second half. Plotwise I could just about take it or leave it–I was never particularly convinced by the twist that occurs at the end of this scene, and I was never really sure that the way the rest of the movie followed was really the direction to go with it. But the dynamics of the scene–the interaction between Gere and Martinez–is unlike those in any other scene I can remember from another movie.
The scene could have very easily been a cliche, especially considering the way it ends–a jealous husband confronts his wife’s lover, and a fight breaks out with tragic consequences. It doesn’t quite play out like that, though, mostly because Gere’s intentions in showing up at Martinez’s doorstep are so ambiguous. Does he want to kill him? Force him to stop seeing his wife? Get information from him? Make him feel guilty for what he’s done? Gere doesn’t seem to be sure, and merely asks to be let inside his apartment. Martinez doesn’t seem to get it either, and in his confused state, doesn’t seem to think twice about granting Gere his request, despite the obvious emotional volatility of the situation at hand.
Both Gere and Martinez’s characters are somewhat unusual for their respective roles to begin with. As the husband spurned, Edward isn’t really the kind of insensitive schlub we’re used to from such a situation–he’s actually a pretty decent-seeming guy, a good father and husband, and he still looks at least somewhat like Richard Gere. The only real knock on him from a spousal standpoint is that he doesn’t seem quite as interested in taking care of business in the bedroom with wife Connie as he probably once did. Meanwhile, Paul isn’t really the kind of dastardly homewrecker he should probably be either. He’s kind of sleazy, sure, but the movie never makes him as evil as we think it will. He never tells Connie that he’s in love with her, he never asks her to leave her husband, hell, he never even goes out of his way to see her, always letting her come to him. Even late in the movie when we find out he was married the whole time, he gets let off the hook when we find out he and wife were separated. He’s not a good guy, but he’s not a particularly bad guy either–basically, he’s just a guy who enjoys having sex with Diane Lane, and knows that he’s good enough to make it worth her while. Fair enough.
Paul’s lack of emotional involvement in the situation is part of what makes the scene here with Edward so interesting. He doesn’t do any of the things you’d expect a side-lover to do when an angry husband shows up–he doesn’t apologize or try to plead his case, he doesn’t get territorial and demand that Edward leave him alone, and he doesn’t brag to Edward about how much better he must be in bed than him. Rather, he just attempts to have polite conversation with the man whose wife he’s fucking, seeming to believe that Edward will be capable of handling the situation as dispassionately as he does. He makes a bad joke about having heard “no complaints” when asked if Connie likes it at his place, he responds to Edward’s furiously informing him that he and Connie have been married for 11 years and have a son with “yeah…she told me” and just keeps offering him more drinks. It’s quite possibly the most awkward encounter I’ve ever seen depicted on film, especially because the whole time you’re watching, you’re just thinking “why the hell doesn’t this guy realize how bad this situation is about to get?”
Of course, the situation does get bad, as in a rage blackout, Edward takes a snowglobe (which Connie had given Paul, despite originally being a gift from Edward), and gives Paul a couple of lovetaps on the head with it, killing him. From there, the movie turns into Gere trying to cover up his crime of passion, and slowly revealing the truth of his actions to Connie, who has, coincidentally, decided on her own to end her relationship with Paul. It was an inevitable conclusion of sorts, I guess, and it does do some interesting things for the rest of the movie, as Connie and Edward go on to play complex mind games over who did what and who knows what about who did what, and eventually realize that the affair/murder has brought them closer together. But it kind of cheapens the scene on the whole, I think–the tension between Paul and Edward is so unbelievable that ending it with a killing almost seems like a cop-out. It doesn’t do the scene’s unique dynamic any justice.
If you only ever watched Unfaithful for the sex scenes, I can’t say I’d blame you. But you might want to hang around for at least a few minutes after to give this bizarre little tete a tete (/ a snowglobe) a look.