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Tue November 8, 2005
The Dying Gaul
More than three parts to be divided.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time
"Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall." Herman Melville quoted at the beginning of The Dying Gaul
If Robert Altman's The Player defined greedy, amoral Hollywood of the early nineties, Craig Lucas's The Dying Gaul serves the stew of Hollywood deceit and duplicity in the early 21st century. Peter Sarsgaard's Robert is a writer wooed by Campbell Scot's powerful producer, Jeffrey. The courtship involves Robert's script about homosexual entanglements and Jeffrey's own designs on the gay Robert, who has recently lost his lover.
Only in Hollywood could a bisexual producer making moves on a writer demand that the writer change the lovers to heterosexual even when he is pushing his own homosexual agenda, saying "Americans hate gays." But this conflict is emblematic of the Janus-like nature of Hollywood negotiation and the ambivalent roles each player must act out. This Gaul has many more than three parts to be divided.
Enter Patricia Clarkson's Elaine, Jeffrey's attractive writer wife and potential close friend to Robert. Elaine has clearly understood Lady Macbeth's power to manipulate seemingly strong men; she adds the Internet chat room as a tool to jerk Robert into frenzy and change the course of her husband's invulnerable career. If you remember the chat scene in Mike Nichols' Closer where Clive Owen and Jude Law conduct a modern combat about sex, then you have an idea of how powerful the tool is in creating fiction online and shaping the protagonists' lives in The Dying Gaul.
This film is a cautionary tale about power mixed with sex and longing. The ending is so convoluted and unrealistic that it compromises the Closer-like excellence it should have had. But maybe that ending is another fiction married to another fiction, a natural place for all those jousting in the dream factory.
My daughter is a young writer; my son is a talent agency president; my life is a constant prayer that they survive the illusions. The Dying Gaul is sometimes good enough to die for.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com