Review: Hemingway's Garden of Eden

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This film is based on the book, "The Garden of Eden", by Ernest Hemingway, which some speculate was semi-autobiographical and was published in 1986 after Hemingway's suicide. This is a story of love, sex, power and gender reversal during the jazz age, a time of newfound freedom and frivolity. Against this backdrop Hemingway reveals the psychological and sexual games of three young, wealthy and hedonistic characters.

Wandering aimlessly through Europe circa 1926, Catherine (Mena Suvari) a young and wild American heiress, meets David Bourne (Jack Huston, nephew of Angelica Huston), a successful American writer living in Paris. It is love or lust at first sight when they meet at an upscale artistic function. They marry almost immediately and honeymoon through Europe as the mood strikes Catherine. And strike it does. She is a restless soul with a decadent core, a volatile combination when combined with an unlimited source of funds. David becomes a willing but helpless and passive pawn in her game of debauchery. His heart and mind is an open book as she unintentionally, but most skillfully, seduces and reduces him to a shell of his real self, in her attempt to test his love for her. Catherine's hair becomes the measurement of her emotional state and she begins surprising David with shorter and shorter hair, finally dying it a stark white and demanding that he do the same.

Enter Marita (Caterina Murino), another rich, aimless, free-spirit and the ménage a trois is complete. David is reluctant at first, but as Jack Huston remarks about his character, "David is not hard to corrupt." Her dark, sensuous beauty is in stark contrast to this white-haired, beautiful and crazy couple. After the initial fun and games, the tension and jealousy begins to tear and rip them individually and collectively apart. Unexpectedly it edges into thriller territory, oddly reminiscent of old Hitchcock films.

Cinematographer Ashley Rowe has done a magnificent job of capturing the light and extraordinary landscapes, the opening scene looks like a Monet, but this movie has a couple of major problems. Having not read the book, I had no expectations and can be unbiased. The overall problem was this movie tried hard to be too many things and lost its general focus. Midway through the film, suddenly we're in flashbacks of David's youth in Africa as a boy with his tough and rigid father (Matthew Modine, a great actor playing a poorly written part), an elephant hunter. Huh? I learned at the interview that the original script had none of the African scenes and was added after production began. It's very apparent that this in no way fits the movie or lends itself to the plot. It's just kind of dropped in, like an unwelcome friend at the door, as you're getting ready to slip into a warm bath.

The script seemed lacking, but perhaps, since so much of this story required extraordinary chemistry, it could be the over-analysis of the character Ms. Suvari portrayed. There was a self-consciousness in the directing that seemed to inhibit the relationship. When the characters were in bed there was great attraction and heat, but something was missing in their unspoken encounters. So what started out as what I thought would be a period-style, Jane Austen type love story, turned into a very sexual, but futile story about a spoiled brat that takes anything she wants, including the soul of the man she loves. I don't mind being surprised, but this movie clunked along, rather than transitioning smoothly through the twists and turns. It's about destruction and jealousy but for no apparent reason other than boredom. Jack Huston and Caterina Marino generated real passion, lust and understandable longing, but ultimately I didn't care about these self-absorbed characters. The actors are all wonderful, incredible and supremely gifted but I think this is one of those projects that takes off, should have been shot down somewhere along the way, but kept getting pulled along because the creators were so invested in it that they lost sight of the whole. I really wanted to like this movie more, but I would say wait for the DVD.

Tags: Mena Suvari, Jack Huston, Hemingway, Caterina Marino, Matthew Modine, John Irvin, The Garden of Eden, Hemingway's Garden of Eden

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