Judge David Johnson taught a few classes of high school English and not once felt an overwhelming urge to embark on a wild affair with one of his students. Does that make him a passionless prude?
No love is safe from desire.
Dennis Hopper (Speed) stars as Joseph Svenden, a simple middle-aged teacher living in a backwater town who gets a shot of horniness from a promiscuous 17-year-old high school student that not even prescription drugs could replicate. Unfortunately, this leads to his taking off his pants.
Facts of the Case
Joseph Svenden is preparing to exit his teaching career of more than 20 years. The recently expanded school district has deemed him unsuitable to teach, and is thus squeezing him out. Meanwhile, his mother is slowly dying from cancer. He's just a regular shlub bobbing along on the surface of life.
He is also on the verge of marrying his longtime sweetheart Rosalee (Amy Irving, Traffic), a fellow teacher. But suddenly his boring life is thrown into a tailspin of lust when a seductive young high school senior walks into his classroom. The girl is Catherine Wheeler (Amy Locane), daughter of the town's newest resident, Nathan Wheeler (Gary Busey, Lethal Weapon), a retired Army major.
Joseph agrees to house Major Wheeler's daughter's horse in his barn, not knowing that the arrangement will soon lead to a tawdry affair. Catherine is not shy about her intention, stripping down and making the googly eyes at Joseph. Possessing not a single proton of self-control, Joseph pounces, and the two embark on a three-month-long sexual escapade.
But will the repercussions of his decision affect the loved ones in his life, or will everyone who finds out actually not really mind and just laugh indulgently at the charming old man boning an underage girl?
Here is a perfect example of respecting the craft of a movie but abhorring the story it tells. Carried Away is a morally bankrupt, reprehensible exercise in self-aggrandizing, consequence-free decision making.
Look at the story. We've got this seemingly okay guy prepping to marry the woman he's always loved, and then faster than you can say "Pass the Cialis!" he's porking a girl one-third of his age. That's some protagonist! And it's not like Joseph languishes over his decision before finally succumbing to relentless seduction from Catherine. Nope. She takes off her shirt. He pauses, then immediately jumps on board. Plus, as far as I can tell, he never once regrets his decision. I suppose he's become so enamored of the "passion he thought he'd buried forever" (quoting the film synopsis) he hasn't given much thought to the consequence of his actions. And why should he? Everyone who finds out seems to brush off the affair. In fact, Catherine's father doesn't really seem to mind, going as far as to say that it was probably mostly his daughter's fault. WTF?!
Maybe I'm a prude, mired in the swamps of antiquated moral thinking, but a film chronicling a old man's unbridled lust and how it positively affects all those around him, including his future wife (?!), is not something I can get on board with. The film treats the awakening of Joseph's loins as a glorious thing. The music is stirring. He makes emotional speeches about finding himself and "catching up" and tapping into his pool of passion, blah blah blah. Please. This sentimental claptrap does little to mask the fact that this is basically a story about a guy who can't keep it in his pants and thinks it's okay to Björk one of his students.
As I think about it, I would have been a lot less offended if this was simple exploitation. But everyone takes this story so frickin' seriously, equating Joseph's lust with a great spiritual awakening. If Carried Away had been some '80s schlock, then I would have shelved my value system, understanding that it was never meant to be treated as anything more than visceral entertainment. But the filmmakers obviously want me to digest their message. No thanks. I'd rather puke.
Okay. All that being said, from a purely stylistic point of view, Carried Away is top-shelf. The scenery captured by Bruno Baretto is beautiful. His lens drinks up rural America, in all of its earthy color, simplicity, and occasional dilapidation. The acting is excellent, with Hopper just owning the film. He does a great job, though I find his character despicable.
New Line has also put together a really nice presentation. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous. Details are sharp, and Baretto's photography is brought to vivid life. Two 5.1 digital tracks, DTS and Dolby Digital, are both pretty laid-back, but this is a quiet movie.
Baretto and Irving offer a fairly subdued commentary, talking some about the transition of novel to screen (Irving also produced). Large gaps of silence mark the commentary track.
I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there who wouldn't be bothered by this film. Fine. But the glorification of betrayal and moral vacuity that is Carried Away represents one of the more worthless two hours I've spent with a film.
On the count of Putting Together a Bad-Looking Film, the court finds the accused not guilty. On the count of Making a Film That the Court Friggin' Hates in the first degree, the accused is found guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
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