The Loss of Sexual Innocence: A Splendid Disaster

There is a scene in Mike Figgis' Loss of Sexual Innocence that is beautifully metaphorical of the film as a whole. It takes place at a mundane gas station, when Nic, played by the blithely brilliant Julian Sands, decides to relieve himself. On opening the door to the latrine, he looks down to see that it is stuffed with torn and crumpled fragments of pornographic images. The soundtrack swells in a melodramatic surge, informing us that we, the audience, should be equally as disturbed as the film's central character, whose face distorts in a disgusted horror. The shock sends him off down one of the film's multiple flashback scenes, this time having to do with a childhood memory of a suicide.

Don't worry: If all of this sounds more than a little confusing, emotionally indifferent, and pretentious to you, that's because it is. And the rest of the movie does a marvelous job of combining those three descriptives in a myriad of manners. In fact, this is the most interesting thing about the movie. For rather than loose your interest or your temper, you, the moviegoer can also choose to exercise the Zen-like control necessary to be fascinated by the numb meaninglessness of this highly self-conscious pastiche.

One has the sense that Figgis is straining so greatly for profundity that the story and its presentation become fairly muddled. How else to explain his mingling of the morbidity theme (there are three wretched deaths over the course of the film) with a story that purports to be about the journey into sexual maturity? How else to explain the cliché strains of Mozart that linger over the hand-held camera slo-mos punctuating the movie? Why else would Figgis intersperse his already needlessly fragmented screenplay with tedious reenactments of the Garden of Eden, let alone play to the tired stereotype of the noble savage by casting Adam as a black man, who-how original!-engages in (you won't believe it!) animalistic sex with a lily-white Eve at the film's climax. But there are moments when even such speculation as to the filmmaker's motives becomes futile, including a totally tangential sequence involving a pair of twins briefly and unknowingly reunited by fate.

As with this inexplicable moment in the narrative, the rest of the film gives one has the impression of watching an add for expensive perfume: a breathtakingly beautiful series of surrealistically spurious images that are not at all emotionally engaging, and of which the main purpose is to create an ambience of high fashion. And this is the greatest downfall of the film. Not its look-at-me arty presentation, nor its overweening intellectualism, but its inability to create any attachment to the characters at hand. The moments of Nic's life that are excerpted here portray him as a pawing philanderer: Nic groping his teenage girlfriend on the floor of her living room while her terminally ill father suffers in the next room; Nic barbarically taking his drunken wife in spite of her overt apathy and abruptly stopping as her pleasure begins in order to take a business call; Nic espousing high-minded environmental philosophy by day and seducing another man's lover by night. He is not even evil, like a Valmont, but an empty, petty, ordinary man who has never progressed past his teenage years, when immediate sexual gratification mattered much more than actual relationship. He is little more to us than a mass of swimming, unrelated memories that obsfucate the present and his reaction to it. And this would be much less aggravating if so much else about the film didn't cry out for the supposed melodramatic significance of Nic's life.

And this is ultimately where the film and its title are a total mismatch. For nothing in it even remotely suggests that there ever was any sexual innocence to loose, or, otherwise we must deduce that Nic is ever anything but sexually innocent. Either way, the story is entirely devoid of any emotion-be it love, guilt, shame, intimacy-a fact which is in direct conflict with the transition or transformation suggested by the film's title. There is no development in The Loss of Sexual Innocence, simply a series of events leading up to variously indifferent copulations. Which would probably be more titillating on the pages of a magazine found on the floor of the men's room, and infinitely less haughty.