“I’m not the person you think I am …”
Why are films so often about writers? Are writers inherently interesting characters? Assumed to be bright, talented and loquacious? Yes, and yes. They’re also headstrong and insecure — an incendiary combination perfect for cinematic caricature. (Plus we have a career that allows us to tell our own stories, some of which get made into films.)
On the other hand, some films simply require a character who has as much alone time as Jack Torrence. And others need a genre writer to get caught up in his own genre, the way Rick Castle does. Belgian film Swimming Pool (2003) is both.
Swimming Pool features a mystery writer whose attempt to find solitude gets her tangled up with people she doesn’t know, which leads to a murder. The story ends up being pretty exciting in a thoughtful, European sort of way, but if you want to read a review, you can do that elsewhere.
I’m interested in the implications.
In Swimming Pool, Charlotte Rampling plays a British mystery writer named Sarah who is having a bit of a nervous breakdown and escapes to her editor’s villa in the South of France. While she’s there, she refuses to swim in the swimming pool and starts to write. There are no crumpled up papers in her world; when she writes, she goes nonstop. Everything seems great until the homeowner’s wayward daughter Julie shows up, slips on a sexy bikini and uncovers the swimming pool.
This causes Sarah a great deal of distress, especially when the girl starts bringing home men for sex. But Sarah responds like a writer: She doesn’t get mad, she starts taking notes. Things get dangerous when she steals Julie’s diary, seduces the gardener and … starts swimming in the swimming pool. Is that a metaphor I detect?
Anyway, what started as a meditation on the solitude of the writer’s life, transforms into a more realistic portrayal of the way a writer mines her life for inspiration. When curiosity turns into obsession, bad things start to happen. Bad things that later turn out to be (spoiler alert) all in Sarah’s head. Julie’s life becomes delicious fiction. With a hot soundtrack.
Films about writers are allowed to blur the line between the reality the writer lives and the fantasy the writer later creates. Yes, it’s cheating, but it’s metafictional cheating, and if you’re good at it pretentious people are going to think you’re awesome. Well, Swimming Pool is great at it. So good, in fact, I suspect there’s something more going on.
The way Sarah’s fictional story takes hold of the narrative, blurring the lines, tricking you, and hijacking young Julie’s life is a reminder that writers are powerful; say too much around them, reveal too much, and you might wake up one morning to find your whole life etherized upon the table, dissected and presented for examination. You might even find it transformed, fictionalized, immortalized.
If that sounds attractive, keep in mind that in either scenario your life will no longer belong to you, and that this is a form of plagiarism against which there is no restriction or defense. Writer’s have license.