May 21, 2016

The Unbearable Movie about the Unbearable Lightness of Being

When hetero literature majors start gushing that a book is a masterpiece, the best thing ever written, you know you're in for heterosexist "boy meets girl as the meaning of life!" drivel.

When I was in grad school in comparative literature at USC, back in the 1980s, my classmates were all gushing over:
1. Ulysses.
2. The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass
3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera.

All long and tedious, with endless passages of indecipherable prose that boil down to one central thesis: heterosexual sex is nice.

I never actually made it through any of them.  Life is short, and I hear that central thesis a thousand times a day anyway.  But earlier this week I was forced to watch the 3-hour long movie version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988).

The title refers to theories of mortality.  If there's an afterlife, then being is "heavy," but if death is the end, then being is "light."

I don't get it, either, but no matter: the movie is about having sex.

Tomas, a brain surgeon in 1968 Prague, is played by the extraordinarily ugly Daniel Day-Lewis (top photo), yet every woman -- literally -- looks at him like he's a dish of ice cream.  He has a brusque pick-up line -- "Take off your clothes" -- that works, every time. The woman begins to disrobe immediately.

To be fair, he always selects mousy, shy women with poor self-images and terrible fashion sense.  Maybe they disrobe because they want to try out a new wardrobe.

What follows is a long, lingering view of the woman's nude body and then an absurdly wild sex scene that shows her body some more but keeps Tomas completely covered up. She shrieks with ecstasy.  This happens about 15 times during the movie.

Sabine, one of his regular hookups, is having an affair with a married man (Derek de Lint) in a subplot I fell asleep for.

Meanwhile, Tomas falls in love with aspiring photographer Tereza (Juliette Binoche) and her dog, but continues telling women to take off their clothes a dozen times a day.  He explains that it's pure sex, unrelated to romance, and points out, as an example, his friend with benefits Sabine.

Tereza doesn't buy it.  But what can she do about Tomas's sexual compulsion?

She blames the evil, decadent city of Prague, and insists that they move to Geneva, but Tomas continues telling women to take off their clothes.


Maybe hooking up isn't so bad? Tereza tries a trick of her own, going home with an ugly, creepy engineer (Stellan Skarsgaard), but she doesn't like it.

Maybe if she can get Tomas away from the temptation?

She insists that they give up their careers and move to the country with one of Tomas's old brain surgery patients and his pet pig.

Tomas becomes a farmer, and Tereza becomes a housewife.  There are apparently no women for 20 miles around, so Tomas stops hooking up.

They are blatheringly happy.  They have finally discovered the meaning of life.

Then they die!  They are killed in an auto accident while driving drunk in the rain.

But this terrible tragedy is portrayed as something wondrous, with bright light and sentimental music.  They died together, they were in love, they had found the meaning of life, the unbearable lightness of being.

Oy vey.

There isn't even any beefcake -- all of the men stay fully clothed while naked women bounce around on top of them and shriek.

Besides, all of the men are extraordinarily ugly, with the exception of Clovis Cornillac, who has a brief scene as a boy who tries to pick up Tereza in a bar.