Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 24 - Knife in the Water

Knife in the Water (1962) directed by Roman Polanski

Okay I must have missed the boat here (pun sort of intended) because I don't get why this film has such high marks across the board. Roman Polanski's debut film pretty much got universal praise upon its release and even more since then and is widely considered a classic. I'm sure it must be great in many ways, but rather than try to sugarcoat it and just regurgitate other people's reviews, I will continue my ignorance and be perfectly honest. What's the big deal?

Knife in the Water only features three characters, a snobby upper class husband, his trophy wife and a young college age hitchhiker they pick up on the road. The two are on their way to a day trip on their boat and the husband invites the hitchhiker to come along. So the three of them are alone on this boat for a day where the rest of the movie revolves around the growing animosity between the two men. In the description of the movie, there is a supposed sexual tension going on between the three characters. Certainly there is a dynamic between the two men where one tries to assert his masculinity over the other. The older man tries to belittle the younger by making him do menial tasks on the boat and by asserting his intellectual superiority, especially his knowledge of sailing in which the young man has none. The younger man responds by showing off his brawn and weiding a gigantic pocket knife, pure hunter-gatherer style. But while they are jockeying for alpha male on the boat through their banal banter, the woman looks on with disinterest as if listening to the arguments of two children. One would assume that there'll be a growing rift between the husband and wife as the younger man and her interact, but that simply doesn't happen. There seems to be no sexual tension whatsoever between the young man and woman as they seem totally uninterested in each other throughout much of the movie. There is one scene where he accidentally takes a quick glance in her direction as she's undressing, but it seems like an honest mistake. They don't make any passes at each other, no subtle seduction or flirtation, so where is the tension? What is the real conflict here other than the husband being an ass and the young man being a punk? It doesn't seem like the husband should be at all jealous or worried about the other guy advancing on his woman.

So the real conflict is this class struggle between this high society snob and this poor college kid. Assuming that they get into any deep philosophical debates to drive this forward (which they don't), why should I care? What does it mean for this guy to order the other guy around on the boat and what does it say about the difference in class and social structure? What is Polanski trying to tell the viewer? The overall message seems simplistic, not profound, and it would help if he demonstrated this point in any kind of interesting manner.

All that aside, the real problem with Knife in the Water is that it is monotonous, tedious, and at times, dare I say, boring, which is completely contradictory to most other reviews. So clearly I must be a Neanderthal. Perhaps I am being overly harsh because there are certainly interesting moments, which in a vacuum are good scenes, but taken as a whole, don't seem to be leading anywhere. By the time things finally get dicey, you wonder if it was worth the wait.

If there is one saving grace to Knife, it is that it is very well shot. Virtually the entire movie is filmed on water and Polanski and his cinematographer don't miss a beat. It makes you think just how nice it would be to just be out on a boat on a nice sunny day. Picturesque would be an appropriate word. Perhaps my favorite shot is a rather trivial one but it demonstrates Polanski's creativeness. The young man lies on his back on the deck of the boat looking up at his finger blocking the sun. He squints with one eye open with the other closed and rapidly switches his eyes back and forth. The resulting effect is a jump cut back and forth with his finger slightly to the right, then left, then right.... A neat little trick.

Overall, Knife in the Water, while having its moments, left a lot to be desired. The concept seemed intriguing, but everything that supposedly happens doesn't happen for me. Maybe I am the young man in the movie, ignorant of the world, while Polanski and the film elite is the husband pointing their noses down at me.

Grade: C+

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