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Based on Michael Chabon's novel, the film chronicles the defining summer of a recent college graduate who crosses his gangster father and explores love, sexuality, and the enigmas surrounding his life and his city.
Set in the jazz age years, prior to the depression, the story follows a successful young American writer, David Bourne, and his beautiful new wife, Catherine, on their extended honeymoon in Europe. Catherine soon becomes restless and starts to tests her husband's devotion, pushing him to the limits of her imagination. Already unsure of the games his wife is playing, David is both uncomfortable and curious when she brings a sultry Italian girl, Marita, to spice things up. As the erotic game reaches new levels, the events that follow will change their lives forever. Written by
Based on a posthumously released novel written by Ernest Hemingway, Garden of Eden takes place prior to the Great Depression, during the Jazz age, following a successful young American writer, David Bourne (Jack Houston), and his new bride, Catherine (Mena Suvari), a rich heiress, who are on an extended honeymoon in Europe. During the honeymoon, Catherine starts to get restless and begins playing bizarre mind games with David, testing his devotion. To David's discomfort, she persuades him to role play in the bedroom, with her as the boy and him as the girl. Things get stranger when Catherine develops a relationship with an Italian girl, Marita (Caterina Murino), and brings her to him as a "present", even suggesting they take turns being David's wife.
Directed by John Irvin (Hamburger Hill, Dogs of War), this film is more character-driven than plot-driven. There is much sex going on, focusing on the strange love triangle between David, Catherine, and Marita. The focus and the pace of the film changes noticeably when it moves on to David's past memories of his father, an elephant hunter in Africa. These memories, which are quite out of place from the rest of the film, become material for David's new book.
This film is beautiful to look at. It is a period film--the mood, clothing, and environments recreate the early part of the 20th century in fine detail, soft sepia filters, and a pastel color scheme. There's an impressive tracking shot in the beginning of an outdoor banquet, of rich folks raising their glasses in slow motion. We soon see a naked lady being filmed at a picnic, re-enacting Manet's "The Luncheon on the Grass". Small moments like these amusingly portrays a certain mindset of this particular society. Advertisement
It the film, David Bourne appears to be Hemingway's alter ego. While Jack Huston looks like the young Hemingway, his character is far from the heavy-drinking, macho guy the famous author was known for. He is constantly pushed around by the neurotic Catherine, whom he is always trying to please, which becomes increasingly hard to do. Catherine has some amount of disdain for David's work and becomes jealous when Marita admits to having read his transcript. Throughout the film, David half-jokingly calls Catherine "Devil."
Admittedly, the characters here are not very engaging. Jack Houston does what he can with his role, but his character never feels like a whole person. Mena Suvari has a meatier role as Catherine, who brings much intensity to the film. However, we never quite know why she acts the way she does and her dialogue feels stilted. Caterina Murino (Casino Royale) is competent as Marita, despite the character's lack of complexity.
Given the title of the film, Garden of Eden, a reference to the Bible, one might say David represents Adam and Cartherine represents Eve. Perhaps the theme speaks about a picture-perfect couple who are tempted toward a wrong way. In this film, though, it appears to be mostly Catherine who brings things down for them. Or, it could just be that Catherine is actually the serpent (as David called her "Devil.") bringing Marita (Catherine's "present") as the fruit to tempt David to fall. It is indicated that Catherine wants to share her "sin" (Marita) with David to feel less guilty about her extramarital relationship with Marita.
One wonders if Hemingway could be using Catherine to represent certain attitudes within radical feminism. The film also touches upon morality and class. Catherine says something along the lines of "we are not like normal people--we can live our life however we want." Given that this film was based on an incomplete novel, it is hard to say what Hemingway really wanted to say, or if he had a particular message. It could just be a character study. As it is, the film feels uneven and the characters are not very engaging. Perhaps it is meant to be read as a novel and not seen as a film.
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