Center of the World shoots blanks

By Natalie Sit

For a purportedly erotic movie, The Center of the World is strangely anti-climactic. Despite all the action on screen, which might get male pulses racing, the rest of us are left neither hot nor bothered. In a culture where baring all is fine, there’s little left to the imagination.

Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) is a rich computer geek who hires Florence (Molly Parker), a wannabe drummer who pays her bills by stripping. It’s been two years since Richard last had some action, so he pays her $10,000 and takes her to romantic Las Vegas for three nights. But Florence has some conditions: no kissing on the mouth and no penetration (no doubt something she learned from Pretty Woman). As well, she will only perform from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

But it’s clear Richard wants more than a strip show. He desires not just physical intimacy but an emotional relationship with Florence. In such a situation, one would expect heightened sexual tension between the two. It should be obvious by the way he acts and talks how much he wants her. But there’s no urgency or erotic undertones in their sex scenes. It has the same emotional content as the run-of-the-mill porn movie. All it’s missing is the throbbing bass line.

Both characters are simply drawn and portrayed. As a result viewers don’t care and they have every right not to. Even the last scene between Richard and Florence is devoid of emotion. He wants to feel something real with her. He screams in anger that their act of sex is something real but Florence just stares back, no emotion in her eyes.

The movie also deals unsatisfactorily with Florence’s dilemma with sex. Florence maintains she’s not a whore because she doesn’t have sex. Why then does she have a problem with prostitution but not stripping? Is it the fact she may have feelings for Richard? Since there’s not much dialogue concerning that, viewers must rely on Parker’s acting. But sadly, she can’t communicate Florence’s inner turmoil.

Director Wayne Wang also unintentionally poses another question–what happens to emotionally intimacy when you’ve broken all physical barriers? The characters don’t define their relationship. A prostitute and her customer? Friends? A couple? He fails to answer that question in 86 minutes even though The Center of the World could have easily run longer.

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