Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Sensationalism obscures point of "Carnal Knowledge"

Cleveland Press July 3, 1971

Jules Feiffer's cartoons consist of two people talking endlessly, complaining, agonizing. Many times it is a battle of the sexes and an inability to communicate.

Feiffer has written the script for "Carnal Knowledge" and while it is a Feiffer cartoon come to life it is a life that would not exist without the work of director Mike Nichols.

"Carnal Knowledge" is a movie that many will find offensive and with reason. It is all about sex but without being sexy in the usual movie manner. In language it is explicit, clinical and yet absolutely real.

Like a sex education class, one wonders if it is material for a mixed audience.

THE MOVIE is about two men -- Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkle -- following them from their college days in the 40's right up through the late 60's.

In the beginning they discuss their anticipation of their first encounters with girls. As the movie progresses they tell each other their experiences.

Curiously this is not like the kind of movie that says that everything the characters do concerns sex. Although this is all Nichols covers, it is obvious that there is more to their lives.

Picasso's paintings became leaner and less realistic by the elimination of all other detail. So it is with director Nichols.

Nichols eliminates all but what is essential yet you know that there is more. He doesn't set a scene. He zeros in on his characters talking. If they are sitting on a bench and their eyes move left and right and the soundtrack carries it the proper noises and the conversation makes a reference to tennis, why show the match? Nichols isn't filming a scene about tennis, so he has tossed that out.

NICHOLSON is the aggressive one, Garfunkle, the sensitive one. When Garfunkle starts dating Candice Bergen he t.ells Nicholson about his progress. Quietly Nicholson also dates the same girl and makes his moves faster.

Miss Bergen finally marries Garfunkle as the weaker of the two and hence the one more likely to be hurt by rejection.

At that point she drops out of the movie,though not out of Garfunkle's life.

Nicholson ,continues to be the rat, Garfunkle the quiet, uncertain one. Both are financially successful -- Nicholson as a lawyer, Garfunkle as a doctor. Again this is material you get by inference.

Like the passage of time . . .

Nichols indicates the time with bits of music on the soundtrack, a change in dress, a difference in decor. While other moviemakers are wallowing in nostalgia dwelling for minutes at a time on old music and old styles, Nichols tosses these in as subtle signposts.

Nicholson remains a teach bachelor knowing (in the Biblical sense) maybe a dozen women a year, complaining of a lack -- mostly in their vital statistics.

SUBTLE at first, finally painfully explicit, is his concern over his waning virility. There is a brief marriage following a long affair with Ann-Margret who meets the physical requirements but is hung up on getting married.

Director Nichols has elicited amazing performances from his actors. Non-actor Garfunkle performs like a pro. Nicholson fulfills what has been principally a promise in earlier films. Miss Bergen has never seemed more an actress and Ann-Margret never seemed to be an actress at all in previous pictures.

"Carnal Knowledge" puts down the sexual revolution and as such is undoubtedly (like Nichols' "Graduate") a moral film. But unlike "The Graduate," it leans so heavily on its sensational subject matter that for many, if not most, the point will be lost.