The main problem with this movie is it operates under the incorrect assumption that Nastassja Kinski is a sexier catch than Annette O’Toole!
Screenplay By: Alan Ormsby
Directed By: Paul Schrader
I have little doubt that Paul Schrader is the type of guy who hates himself during sex and then cries afterward. It’s been some time since I watched a movie as puritanical in its view of sex as Cat People. The film is centered around the idea that sex is bad, women are evil for wanting to engage in sex, and men are even worse for wanting to imprison women with sex while they roam free. Evil, pure evil, that’s the sexualized theme of Cat People. Sex is not something that people should be engaged in because it is a depraved act from which there is no coming back. Murder, crime, lewdness, and a distinct lack of morals, that’s what comes from engaging in sex.
Yet we do engage in sex, and so does Cat People. This is where Mr. Schrader gets even deeper with his puritanical view. He presents sex to the viewer, as well as a lot of female nudity. He’s not endorsing those presentations, he’s in the corner ashamed of himself for presenting such immoral imagery. He’s giving the viewer what they want, and asking how we aren’t ashamed of ourselves for wanting sex and nudity. A sex act isn’t just a sex act in Cat People, it’s something for the viewer to ogle over and in turn be ashamed of themselves for doing so. The same is true of the nudity on display, as Mr. Schrader posits that just because women are nude doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it. And, ultimately aren’t we evil creatures if we see a nude female form and are aroused by said form?
My impression of Mr. Schrader, at least in Cat People, is that he’s more comfortable wagging his finger at the audience than he is at confronting his own demons. He’s the opposite of Michael Haneke in that regard, although I can see why people would find Herr Haneke lecturing as well. I don’t share that view, but I do find Mr. Schrader very lecturing. Over and over again he wags his finger and he admonishes the viewer for having the temerity to watch his disgusting film. Only it’s not really disgusting, it’s only disgusting if you’re as shamed of sex as Paul Schrader.
Therein lay the disconnect between myself and Cat People. I can’t reconcile the technical craft on display with the thematic content. Mr. Schrader shows tremendous visual acuity in his framing and composition of shots. At the same time his puritanical viewpoint is extremely suffocating. I needed to take a long walk and cleanse myself after watching Cat People. Not because I felt dirty, rather it was tiring spending so much time with a man who is this shamed of his sexual desires. The technical prowess is enchanting though, it’s easy to get lost in the dream imagery that permeates the picture. However, the theme is always being pushed and that knocked me out of the film on a consistent basis.
My thoughts on Cat People probably don’t make a lick of sense. It’s a vexing movie and I find it hard to properly articulate my thoughts on the film. On the one hand I was completely turned off by the sexual repression of Mr. Schrader. On the other hand I was captivated by the imagery and technical craftsmanship that embodies the film. Ultimately Cat People is more of a fascinating experience than a great movie. The sledgehammer thematics of Mr. Schrader wear thin rather quickly, and not even his technical gifts with a camera can overcome such a brutally overbearing theme. Mr. Schrader can cry himself to sleep every time he has sex, I just wish he chose to present his repression in a somewhat more nuanced fashion.