The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

The shower scene lingers in my mind

with 20 comments

What is there about the bodies of grown-up women that is so scary and off-putting that Hollywood doesn’t dare showing them?

Their absence on the screen is so common that I’ve started to take it for granted. There are certain things you don’t show, because they’re considered shameful, ugly or controversial. And a normal, non-photoshopped, non-surgically improved female body belongs to this category.

Maybe that’s why I was so taken aback by a very short scene in the new Canadian movie Take This Waltz, where the main character is having a shower at the bathhouse after attending a training class in the basin.

It wasn’t Michelle William’s nakedness that made me startled. I’ve seen her in other movies and she looks like a generic young and beautiful film star. What was so remarkable and refreshing about this scene was the other women that were around her. You see: they looked like women actually look.

Here they were, women of all ages, of all shapes with bodies that had given birth to and fed babies, bodies that had lived a life that had left traces on them like tattoos, telling their stories. No one joked about their bodies. No one even commented about them, not in the terms of being sexy or not being sexy. Even if they filled the screen, they weren’t the main focus. They just were there, uncommented.

The view on older women
It turned out that the scene was made that way on purpose, kind of an act of defiance against the current norm. The director Sarah Polley commented on it in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered:

“I feel like with young women, their bodies are constantly objectified and used in a sexual context. With older women, [their bodies are] constantly the butt of a joke. For me, the seminal scene that illustrates that is, in About Schmidt, when Kathy Bates gets into the hot tub and Jack Nicholson is horrified and the audience is supposed to scream.

“I remember being so deeply offended by that scene. One of the first times you’re dealing with an older woman being naked in a movie — it doesn’t happen very often — and it’s the butt of a joke, or it’s supposed to horrifying. [In a shower-room scene in Take This Waltz] I wanted to show women’s bodies of all ages, kind of without comment, and the only conversation around it is about time passing and what it means, and about sexuality and relationships. That it not be something contrived to produce an effect, necessarily.”

A memorable quote
Ryan McNeil at The Matineecast always asks his guest to name one thing that they take from the movie they’ve just reviewed. If you asked me to take one thing from Take this Waltz, it would be this shower scene, which gave me a well needed reminder that I need to get to terms with my own body and aging, not succumbing to the pressure we put on ourselves as we make comparisons to ridiculous and unobtainable ideals.

I’d also keep a quote, a line said by Geraldine, an alcoholic who tries to convey what life has taught her:

“Life has a gap in it… It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.”

There you are – something to contemplate for all of us who are perpetually stuck in something we imagine is a middle-age crisis.

A forgettable film
I wish I had more nice things to say about Take This Waltz, but sadly I don’t.

On the whole it’s a forgettable movie about a couple in their 30s experiencing a crisis in their marriage as the woman one day lays her eyes on their sexy neighbor. Infidelity and other marital problems often make good topics for movies, but this one fails to grab me emotionally for several reasons.

The biggest problem is probably that I don’t care very much for the people in it – especially not for Michelle William’s character, which I find rather annoying. Another issue could be that there isn’t all that much at stake – no children, no one suffering from a lethal disease, nothing that makes a divorce truly complicated and painful.

When the conflict finally is brought up to the surface, the film doesn’t do as much of it as you would expect from this kind of film. Seth Rogen isn’t even allowed to say anything; his part is limited to a row of funny faces. Compared to the infinitely deep chasms explored in movies such as Scenes from a Marriage or The Squid and the Whale, this feels like a breeze.

The image of the shower lingers in my mind though. It’s a pity I couldn’t find a screenshot of it as an illustration to this post. Not that I’m surprised.

Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, CA, 2012) My rating: 3/5

Written by Jessica

August 7, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in Take This Waltz

20 Responses

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  1. Yes, reality according to “Hollywood conventions” (or however else one wishes to phrase it) is a very strange thing. Though to be fair, it is a bit unkind to blame Hollywood. I mean, how often do characters in film (or books for that matter) ever need to go to the toilet unless it is (a) a cover for some ploy, or (b) an occasion for humour, or (c) vitally necessary for the plot in some fashion. I don’t mean to do anything to make a song and dance, but just simple human acts do not seem to be well represented on screen.

    stnylan

    August 7, 2012 at 2:08 am

    • Not that I think a film consisting of solely simple human acts would be a good story of course. Just that, for most films set in “real-life”, it would add that bit of verisimilitude.

      stnylan

      August 7, 2012 at 2:09 am

    • …Or at least not in blockbuster style movies. In smaller productions I think it’s a bit more common to see people “natural style”.

      As of toilet issues: I haven’t yet seen the Game of Thrones series, but I’m halfway through the final book in the series. And here you can speak of catering to your bio needs! Especially Tyrion seems to be doing it more or less every chapter.

      Jessica

      August 7, 2012 at 4:01 pm

  2. Unlike all the unfit old or just a tiny bit overweight men you see shower all the time? Imo it’s not a gender thing, but an impossible body-stereotype-dream, that hollywood portraits.
    Where I do see the difference, is that most men look at the superfit muscular men in films and think “I almost look like that” … despite everything they/we/I see in the mirror each day, and women think “oh i’ll never look like that unless…”
    Maybe thats my stereotype 🙂

    Dwism

    August 7, 2012 at 11:19 am

    • You may be right that it’s not usual to see normally shaped men’s bodies either. But aren’t they less harshly judged? Thinking of that scene from About Schmidt that is referred in the interview. Would you see the same kind of horror faces made at the sight of a male body? I think it’s more common that male actors “get away” with being out of shape and yet not having their bodies commented on. For instance Gerard Depardieu. He keeps growing and yet he gets the most attractive young ladies in movies without anyone raising their eyebrows.

      Jessica

      August 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm

  3. I always smile a bit when something we’ve talked about with a film finds its way into one of your reviews. While I can understand how Polley uses this, I still think within the context of the film, the shower scene was kind of out of place. I’d call it unconventional gratuitous nudity.

    Bondo

    August 7, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    • Hehe, yeah I wouldn’t have noticed that interview unless you had pointed me at it 🙂 And yes, the scene sticks out a bit. As does a later very explicit sex sequence. Those don’t fit into the tone of the movie as a whole.

      Jessica

      August 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

  4. Excellent point, well made Jessica. I remember Kathy Bates actuall doing a nude scene years ago in Hector Babenco’s At Play In The Fields Of The Lord and the reaction was the same. The woman deseves credit and is the only one that seems to be challenging this male dominated perception of the female form.

    Mark Walker

    August 7, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    • Thanks Mark! I haven’t heard of that film, but it’s certainly rare that you see those things when you can recall the very few occasions it has happened.

      Jessica

      August 7, 2012 at 4:07 pm

  5. I agree – when I saw Michelle Williams naked in Shame, I was a little shocked too.
    But only to begin with, it was just because she looked so normal, like any of my friends do.

    mettemk

    August 7, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    • It wasn’t Michelle Williams was it? I think you mix her up with Carey Mulligan. Which I actually can understand. Anyway she’s more traditionally pretty even in that role. The women in Take This Waltz are much older and way more plain. And absolutely comfortable in their nakedness, which per se is something very beautiful.

      Jessica

      August 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      • Oh, yes that was Carey Mulligan. They resemble each other a lot.

        mettemk

        August 12, 2012 at 7:13 pm

  6. Great stuff. Your blog is very good.

    I’d appreciate it if anyone could check out mine.

    Thomas Priday

    August 8, 2012 at 1:21 am

  7. Great post, Jessica. I agree that showing the female body (especially from their 30’s and up) in movies is sort of taboo and what Polley said regarding that topic is very interesting. I haven’t seen About Schmidt but I imagine how offensive it might be. I can think of a similar one, though, and it ironically also stars Jack Nicholson: Diane Keaton’s nude in Something’s Gotta Give. Oh, and that line (life has a gap…) is amazing!
    So effortless yet so wise. I find it funny that you didn’t care for Michelle Williams’ character. She always plays annoying people, huh? At least lately. She was a bitch in Blue Valentine and, for all she means to the history of film, Marilyn Monroe was a total brat.

    fernandorafael

    August 8, 2012 at 7:26 am

    • I’ve seen About Schmidt and I remember that I loved it. But his reaction to an older female body and the expectation that it was a laughable thing got to me as I watched it. When Polley mentions it I know exactly what she’s talking about.

      I didn’t watch the Marilyn Monroe film. As of Blue Valentine – well… yeah… I guess she was a bit annoying, though I would disagree about calling her a complete bitch. They just grew apart, didn’t they? Or got into their marriage with the wrong expectations.

      Jessica

      August 10, 2012 at 5:37 pm

      • Maybe I misjudged her, but she came off as very bitchy to me when I watched it. I’m not saying Gosling’s character was the perfect husband but still.

        fernandorafael

        August 11, 2012 at 8:30 am

  8. I liked this film quite a bit, and it’s interesting to see the wide range of reactions to it. I’m glad you singled out that shower scene — it’s rare to find an example where the nude body isn’t either objectified or meant to be laughed at.

    Eric

    August 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    • That scene really was what stood out to me. And the end. I think it picked up a lot in the last 20 minutes.

      Jessica

      August 10, 2012 at 5:31 pm

  9. […] Jessica (The Velvet Café) fokuserar på en annan aspekt, som jag också reagerade och funderade över, nämligen den avsexualiserade och avklädda (bokstavligt talat) tonen i filmen. Hoppa över och läs. […]

  10. […] Take this Waltz – a little forgettable, but the shower scene stayed with me. […]


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