Carnal Knowledge (1971)

R   |    |  Drama

Carnal Knowledge (1971) Poster

Chronicling the lifelong sexual development of two men who meet and befriend one another in college.



  • Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge (1971)
  • Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge (1971)
  • Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel in Carnal Knowledge (1971)
  • Ann-Margret and Art Garfunkel in Carnal Knowledge (1971)
  • Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge (1971)
  • Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge (1971)

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8 March 2006 | evanston_dad
| Talky But Effective Relationship Drama
A talky, oddly stage-bound film (though it's not based on a stage play) that nevertheless exerts a kind of raw emotional tug on the viewer.

Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel (yes, you read that correctly) begin as college chums on a never-ending hunt for female tail, and end the film as stifled adults, still filling their lives with emotionally empty physical affairs that do nothing to fill the yawning void of their boring existences. Sound depressing? It is, but it's also rather fascinating, due to a sharp script and excellent acting.

This came out at a time when Jack Nicholson was actually playing characters in movies other than Jack Nicholson, and he does fine work here as the more virile and experienced of the two friends. Candice Bergen is also in fine form in a very dramatic role, a far cry from the comedic roles with which we've come to associate her. And Ann-Margret won a lot of acclaim (and the film's sole Oscar nomination) for her brief performance as the sex-pot basket case Bobbie, the target of Nicholson's emotional abuse.

"Carnal Knowledge" is entertaining as an intellectual exercise, but it may leave you cold on a deeper, more emotional level, as no one, not even the women, are especially likable or sympathetic. It came out at a time in our cultural history when "free love" was in vogue, and seemed to suggest that the price people payed for indulging that urge was high and that people turned to casual sex more as an excuse for avoiding significant human contact than as a way to more fully enjoy living. Certainly these emotionally stunted characters seem no better off for all of their care-free indulgence in pleasure.

In many ways, "Carnal Knowledge" seems to be the movie Mike Nichols' other 4-person relationship drama, "Closer," wanted to be, and he would have been wise to approach the material in "Closer" in a similar way as the material here. The staginess in "Carnal Knowledge" works. These people seem to exist in a plane of existence just a fraction removed from the one in which the rest of us live. It's like they live in a vacuum where they're the only people who matter, an airless atmosphere that serves as a fitting backdrop for their selfish behavior.

Probably not one of the more important films from this fertile period for film making, but worth checking out.

Grade: B+

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