In the pivotal early scene, the wife confesses an intensely erotic adulterous fantasy to her husband. She reveals a deeply disturbing aspect of female sexuality that her husband understandably never considered, that she can feel utter tenderness and devotion to her mate while having overwhelming erotic fantasies of another man.
Possibly we are being treated to the real-life implications of women's mating strategies being a combination of finding reliable resources in a man while seeking out even better genes in another. Since 10% of babies are estimated to belong to a man other than the spouse, this uncomfortable aspect of female sexuality is probably not just a fantasy of Kubrick's.
The husband is obsessed with it for the rest of the movie. Not just for the obvious reason that it makes him jealous and insecure, but I think it is also arousing to him to think of his wife with another man, and that's where the ambiguities in male sexuality seem to come into play. The husband seems driven to put himself in sexual situations, even though he never seems to quite carry them through, just as his wife claims to have never carried out her fantasy.
The movie does a reasonably good job providing an unreal sense of confusing erotic feelings in the main characters, but is curiously lacking in erotic excitement for the movie viewer. The sense of fantasy doesn't quite absorb me, the scenes are just contrived enough that I could never quite feel the conflicts or the desires in the characters, except possibly the powerfully erotic scenes where the husband imagines his wife with the naval officer of her fantasies.
I think part of where this fell down for me was that the wife is clearly ambivalent in her feelings about her husband, not in having had erotic fantasies of another man, but in not even having a strong sense of committment to her husband. This destroys some of the erotic tension. She has an orgy dream with an odd twist where her husband clearly plays the role of an annoyance rather than a jealous lover while she is taken by countless men.
At the climax, where they presumably are recovering from the near-fantasy nature of the rest of the film she reveals that she has a hard time saying "forever" to him; playing on his insecurity about her commitment rather than the sexual jealousy and arousal that seems to obsess him throughout the movie up to that point. But we already sensed that she was ambivalent about her marriage before that, since her dream of sex with countless men. The initial palpable tug between her committment and her sexual passion was already broken by then, and she just seems uninterested rather than torn. Perhaps that ironically foreshadowed what happened to Tom and Nicole.
What did you think of this review?