LOVE OBJECTHOW ROMANTIC ARE YOU? | Feb 14, 2004
Kris and I were lucky enough to be able to catch one of the Midnight Valentines Day screenings of Love Object at San Francisco’s Independent Film Festival.
Inspired by the cadaverous “beauties” of RealDoll.com, Love Object is the story of Kenneth (Desmond Harrington), a socially inept technical writer who falls head over heels for his company’s new temp, Lisa (Melissa Sagemiller). The only problem lies in his inability to talk to her. In order to solve this problem, Kenneth hits the net, seeking out the latest in sex doll technology. Foregoing his coming rent, he orders a top of the line Nikki Doll in a desperate attempt for companionship. As time goes on, Nikki and Kenneth build a sexual relationship, as he slowly makes over the doll to look more and more like the flesh and blood Lisa. But being a newly awakened sexually mature adult, Kenneth decides that bigger and better conquests may be in his grasp, and sets his sights on taming Lisa. Alas, as relationships built on purely sexual connections often run into trouble, Nikki starts to get jealous. With the seemingly sentient doll terrorizing Kenneth’s waking hours, and the real woman Kenneth desires not entirely living up to his projected intentions, what’s a horny technical writer with no people skills to do?
The great thing about Love Object is its ability to balance dark humour, disturbing imagery, and social commentary within the scope of a 88 minute film. It explores such diverse issues as technology’s continued interference with interpersonal relationships (increasingly, the innovations meant to improve our communications with other people, only serve to distance ourselves further from one another), the dangerous effects of physical obsessions and sexual deviancies, and the disappointments that come from projecting personal expectations on people. One of the strongest threads involves American society’s fear of strong willed, independent women. The corpse like doll certainly evokes ideas of necrophilia, with the prone form representing the ultimate submissive partner to a sexually frustrated male, but is never explored in a tasteless manner. Positions on these and other issues are addressed and discussed within the context of the story, but never forced down the audience’s throat through superfluous dialogue or heavy-handed attempts at symbolism. What dialogue there is, however, is highly intelligent, and very, very funny. Considering it was a midnight showing, and I was operating on less than 6 hours of sleep, the fact that the film kept me awake and laughing the entire time is a sort of testament to its ability to entertain.
Love Object may not be for everyone, but those who do check it out are in for a surprise. Witty, provocative, and delightfully quirky, I highly recommend this flick. Plus, with supporting roles by cult favourites Udo Kier (Flesh for Frankenstein) and Rip Torn (Men in Black) you have a delightfully dark treat for the horror connoisseur.
Incredible movie. I am a tremendous fan of Udo and Desmond and I agree with Chris’ plug.
For me, this film struck the eerie chord concerning what everyone is guilty of: OBSESSION. Try to deny it, but obsession is part of being a human. It doesn’t necessarily have to endure or procure our superficial standpoints, but it is a release of our passionate nature to collect, categorize, and self-gratify. Heck, everyone has to “have” a hobby.
When we are faced with definitions that deviate from a “normal” hobby, we have the choice to shrug it off or find those who will embrace, accept and share it with us. Lonely Kenneth found friends on the internet (finding friends/buying friends, same difference). Kenneth, bound to consumerism and the “ultimate package”, purchases the extravagantly priced Love Doll in Lisa’s image, or what he projects her image to be. Of course, it’s easier to love someone/something? that you’ve created; molded to your liking. The courtship is simultaneously hilarious and downright freaky, because we’ve all been there to some degree. We’ve shared Kenneth’s delight in a new relationship (our latest obsession), as well as his disgust in a failed one. As soon as something better comes along, banality overcomes our passion, erasing our compassion. Backed into a corner, Kenneth doesn’t realize that he authorizes his own life. If he could only escape his Catholic-like stupor.
Perhaps living in America where sex is oppressed, yet thrust into our visual vernacular on skyscraper billboards, isn’t the healthiest choice for his suppressed libido. Plus it supports the covetous Western theory that there is always something better. And what is he to do? He, like millions upon billions of drones, stays with someone whom he doesn’t love and makes feeble attempts to salvage their bond. Furthermore, he masks his frustration by shuffling off to work, striving to grasp and climb the ladder towards the glass ceiling that none of them truly cares about. It is what they are taught to achieve in order to redeem their miserable existence. Like Pavlov’s dog, just as easily as they are rewarded by the Big Cheese, they can be struck down at any given moment, regardless of their “progress” or substantial support.
The Disposable Purpose: get bored, move on. The film captures this effect brilliantly. The semiotics of the workplace echo romantic relations, as employees are demoted and promoted weekly in their oddball company, often due to rumors. Lisa delivers an astute line regarding her work. She and Kenneth diligently work days, nights and weekends on their instruction manual, but she soon realizes “we’re the first thing people throw away”. Kenneth, who worships and strictly follows the written word, strongly denies that. (This guy’s so straight-laced that he doesn’t even own a pair of jeans and goes “frolicking” on the beach in his work clothes and shoes!) As the two get closer, Kenneth also denies Lisa’s individualism. Appalled at any deviation from his previous fantasies (i.e: her tongue ring), he becomes obsessed with transforming her into what he feels comfortable with.
Unbeknownst to Kenneth, he is developing a keloid on his neck, kind of a rosacea from Hell. It pops up on many of the lesser characters in this film, symbolizing how no one can tell a deviant from a “nice guy”. Kenneth appears to be an average joe, but no one would suspect his psychosis. If only superficial markings would appear, but then again, we may be so blinded by our misconceptions that we would choose to ignore them.
Meanwhile, back at the funny farm, Kenneth’s “infidelity” spawns a jealous rage and the Love Doll goes psycho. In this case however, Kenneth himself controls the Norman Bates-esque persona of the companion and thereby receives and doles out threats accordingly. As much as we’d love to think we can control our partners, how much of that control is actually in our heads? How many people view relationships as a power-struggle or out-right war?
Maybe Kenneth’s fantasy all along was to have a dominatrix obsess over him. As much as all we want to find and consume Love, most just really want someone to jilt just so they can pine for us. Sick as it may be, some thrive on other people’s jealousy. And that “healthy competition” is used by some to attract a mate. But it is never about how much we put out into the social world, it is how we are perceived. Just like instruction manuals that nobody reads, we are hidden conquests, practice sessions, Love Dolls and love objects.