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Carnal Knowledge (1971)

The concurrent sexual lives of best friends Jonathan and Sandy are presented, those lives which are affected by the sexual mores of the time and their own temperament, especially in ... See full summary »




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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Sandy (as Arthur Garfunkel)
Cynthia O'Neal ...


The concurrent sexual lives of best friends Jonathan and Sandy are presented, those lives which are affected by the sexual mores of the time and their own temperament, especially in relation to the respective women who end up in their lives. Their story begins in the late 1940s when they are roommates attending Amherst College together. Both virgins, they discuss the type of woman they would each like to end up with. Sandy, the more sensitive of the two, meets Susan at a mixer, she who he believes is going to be the one to who he will lose his virginity. Sandy goes through the process methodically, taking into account what he thinks Susan wants, but without much true passion or romance. Jonathan, the more sexually aggressive of the two, ends up losing his virginity first to "Myrtle", who ends up being a steady but hidden girlfriend. Based on what each knows of the other's relationship, both Jonathan and Sandy strive for a little more of what the other has. These relationships also set... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The United States Supreme Court Has Ruled That "Carnal Knowledge" Is Not Obscene. See It Now!




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

21 October 1971 (Argentina)  »

Also Known As:

Conocimiento carnal  »

Box Office


$28,623,900 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


According to Jack Nicholson on a Playboy Magazine interview (April 1972), director Mike Nichols asked Nicholson and other cast members not to smoke marijuana while filming on location in Vancouver, British Columbia, where cannabis was easily available. Nichols thought that it dulled an actor's performance. See more »


[first lines]
Jonathan: If you had a choice...
Sandy: Yeah?
Jonathan: Would you rather love a girl, or have her love you?
Sandy: I want it mutual.
Jonathan: I mean if you couldn't have it mutual.
Sandy: You mean would I rather be the one who loves, or is loved?
Jonathan: Yeah.
Sandy: It's not that easy a question. But, I think I'd rather be in love.
Jonathan: Me too.
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References National Velvet (1944) See more »


Komm' mit mir, ich tanz' mit dir
Written by Emmerich Kalman (music), Julius Wilhelm and Fritz Grunbaum (words)
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User Reviews

Talky But Effective Relationship Drama
8 March 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A talky, oddly stage-bound film (though it's not based on a stage play) that nevertheless exerts a kind of raw emotional tug on the viewer.

Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel (yes, you read that correctly) begin as college chums on a never-ending hunt for female tail, and end the film as stifled adults, still filling their lives with emotionally empty physical affairs that do nothing to fill the yawning void of their boring existences. Sound depressing? It is, but it's also rather fascinating, due to a sharp script and excellent acting.

This came out at a time when Jack Nicholson was actually playing characters in movies other than Jack Nicholson, and he does fine work here as the more virile and experienced of the two friends. Candice Bergen is also in fine form in a very dramatic role, a far cry from the comedic roles with which we've come to associate her. And Ann-Margret won a lot of acclaim (and the film's sole Oscar nomination) for her brief performance as the sex-pot basket case Bobbie, the target of Nicholson's emotional abuse.

"Carnal Knowledge" is entertaining as an intellectual exercise, but it may leave you cold on a deeper, more emotional level, as no one, not even the women, are especially likable or sympathetic. It came out at a time in our cultural history when "free love" was in vogue, and seemed to suggest that the price people payed for indulging that urge was high and that people turned to casual sex more as an excuse for avoiding significant human contact than as a way to more fully enjoy living. Certainly these emotionally stunted characters seem no better off for all of their care-free indulgence in pleasure.

In many ways, "Carnal Knowledge" seems to be the movie Mike Nichols' other 4-person relationship drama, "Closer," wanted to be, and he would have been wise to approach the material in "Closer" in a similar way as the material here. The staginess in "Carnal Knowledge" works. These people seem to exist in a plane of existence just a fraction removed from the one in which the rest of us live. It's like they live in a vacuum where they're the only people who matter, an airless atmosphere that serves as a fitting backdrop for their selfish behavior.

Probably not one of the more important films from this fertile period for film making, but worth checking out.

Grade: B+

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