Pushing fashionable lateness to its very limits, Better Late Than Never explore films that we're just getting around to. We know, we should have seen them long ago. Spoilers ahead, but come on... Statute of limitations.
There is a generation of filmgoers who were introduced to Mickey Rourke through Iron Man II: Drones Are Better. In it, he played Ivan Vanko, a Russian engineer and drone enthusiast who uses whips made of electricity to kill Nascar. Rourke, arguably the best element in a mediocre entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brings to that film the same steely charisma (and battered, scampish smirk) that he did to Sin City and The Wrestler. These three films marked a return to cinema for someone who was, in the 80's, a promising pretty-boy.
If you know Rourke from his recent phase of films, it's hard to imagine him as a pretty-boy.
Anyone who's been introduced to Rourke in his recent wave of films is in for a treat when they get to the back catalog, particularly Nine 1/2 Weeks. Watching The Wrestler and Nine 1/2 Weeks back-to-back creates a sort of Benjamin Button effect. The scampish smirk is the same, but the man himself seems to be straddling the uncanny valley between the two films. It's amazing what a couple of years as a professional boxer can do.
Nine 1/2 Weeks is a story about two people who are so jaw-droppingly gorgeous that once they meet they have no choice but to have wild, passionate sex until the affair winds down (Hint: it takes more than 9 weeks but less than 10 to wind down). John Gray (Mickey Rourke) is a New York stock broker, afflicted with a surplus of money, good looks and erotic impulses. Elizabeth McGraw (Kim Basinger) is his muse, a divorced bombshell who works in an art gallery, her time there split between chatting with her giggly coworkers, chasing down reclusive artists and masturbating furiously in the basement when she thinks of Rourke.
Theirs is a relationship premiered in lust and it inevitably falls apart when Basinger realises it will have to be more if it is to be sustainable. But, there is a clock ticking on this affair, a countdown that began with the title, and eventually their time together runs out. Basinger ends it when she realises that there is no limit to Rourke's sexual appetite.
Shot in 1984 and released in 1986, Nine 1/2 Weeks is terrifically modern in its sexuality and gender politics, much more so than the dom-sub staples Secretary or 50 Shades of Grey.
Secretary irresponsibly draws a straight line between broken homes and masochism and sexual submission. While there may be a correlation between these three disparate things, the film suggests causation. The problem with that is that it perpetuates the idea that a kinky lifestyle is the result of being broken and needing fixing.
50 Shades, for all its popularity, is predicated on that same concept: Grey is broken and love will fix him. Nine 1/2 Weeks doesn't rely on any of these overly simplistic approaches to kink. Basinger isn't broken or weak, she's professionally successful and recently divorced. Her ex is a needy, clingy mess and she is in a place where a walk on the wild side would be the perfect emotional reset button.
While Rourke makes some glaring errors in the ways he dominates (24/7 slaving isn't possible or even the slightest bit practical), the film is clear that he actually likes Basinger. The time they spend together is precious to him as it is to her. They both need each other and would be able to prolong their connection if they were both willing to grow. Kim is. Mickey isn't.
Their connection particularly evident in a scene where Basinger attempts a strip tease but is simply too giddy with excitement to deliver with the professionalism that Rourke and his wall street buddies are accustomed to in the red-light district. In early scenes, Rourke is cool and detached, seducing Basinger with a sterile precision. We see the relationship through her eyes in the early parts of the film. It is during this strip-tease, while she's shrouded in shadows back-lit that we finally spend some time enjoying Rourke's humanity.
He enjoys every moment of the show through her exhilarated and liberated performance. The scene ends with the Basinger leading him up to the roof where she finally strips to the nude, a shed Rourke has been imploring throughout her performance. At this point though, Rourke puts his coat on her and leads her back to his apartment. It's a quiet moment of gentleness and emblematic of why this film endures. He actually likes her. And, she likes him.
Nine 1/2 Weeks has all the trappings of a dime-store romance novel. There's a rakish, enigmatic millionaire, the hot and bothered SoHo art broker, the sweltering heat of a summer in New York and plenty of naughty naughty sex.
But, Nine 1/2 Weeks rises above this well-worn territory on the strength of its two mind-blowingly gorgeous leads and very forward-thinking ethics regarding sex, danger and how those two things, thrilling and necessary though they may be, aren't enough to sustain a relationship. But, the success of a relationship isn't always measured in longevity. Sometimes, nine 1/2 weeks is a all anyone really needs.