Endless Loverecommended viewing

I’ll always remember my first sociopath
Released: 
1981
Director: 
Franco Zeffirelli
Starring: 
Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt, Shirley Knight, Don Murray, James Spader
The Setup: 
Love between 17yo boy and 15yo girl is too hot to handle!
Discussion: 

In 1981 I was 13, and my 16 year old sister was obsessed with jealousy over Brooke Shields. Much of it was just an amusing show, but the point was that Brooke-mania was a very potent force in my household. I was allowed to see The Blue Lagoon, but there was no way my parents were going to see the torrid Endless Love, so I just had to rely on the [profoundly negative] review by my sister as to what it was about. Turns out that a friend of mine is also friends with the screenwriter of this film, and she’s been hanging out with us lately, so add that to my already potent interest to see this film—not to mention the fact that it is not available on DVD [!?!?!?]—and we have a perfect storm of interest in my seeing this RIGHT NOW!

We open with these credits that recall flames as we see figures of Brooke as Jade and Martin Hewitt as her boyfriend, David Alexrod, move through them. This is directed by Franco Zefirelli, best known for a lushly romantic style, which he brought to his famous adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. In fact, I was under the impression that this film was supposed to be a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, and was relieved to learn that it’s not—because who needs another one of those?

Okay, so they’re on a school trip to this planetarium. Prepare yourself for mucho star imagery in relation to David’s feelings. When the lights come up, the teacher chastises David for being there; David is a 17-year-old senior and Brooke is only a 15-year-old sophomore. During the planetarium scene we get our first hint that Zefirelli is going to pepper the movie with some VERY low-light scenes… which may or may not be visible on your crappy rental VHS tape, 25 years later.

Okay, so a few nights later David dresses in a suit to go over to this party. We see that his parents are all very involved in some sort of political campaign, so much so that they barely pay any attention to David. He goes over to Jade’s house, to find her all dressed up in a flowing white dress, and other guys in suits. So you’re like, “Okay, it must be graduation or something.” Then this woman Ann makes a huge entrance in this ornate dress, and you’re like, “Hmm, she looks a little old to be hanging out with these kids.” Then they all sit around a big dinner table and smoke grass, these adults with these kids, and around now you’re like “WHAT is with this party???” The deal is that Jade’s parents are these aging hippies who want to be REALLY cool parents and they have these wild bacchanalias with their kids and the other high school youngsters. And then you’re like, “Oh thank GOD, a movie with some actual, interesting CHARACTERS, that reflects a rarely-seen social milieu with a historical context, and not just another tough-and-smart-but-tender-and-vulnerable 20-something hot, sexy female forensic psychiatrist who tries to resolve her issues surrounding commitment with her elusive music video director boyfriend while trying to find a killer whose methods mirror those of the never-caught criminal who slew her father.” For God’s sake, something DIFFERENT!

So all of a sudden all these other partygoers arrive at the same time, seemingly on a large chartered bus, and this band jams while hip dad Hugh plays trumpet and more drugs are consumed. Then this girl sings a version of “Endless Love” while we have the first on many DIALOGUE-FREE SEQUENCES! And you know we love those. This one gets an A+ for not just being a dialogue-free sequence, but a dialogue-free sequence with an incest subtext. Or, really, TEXT, in this case. David is at the top of the stairs while Jade is rather snug in the arms of her father. RATHER snug. As the first chorus ends, we see that Dad is making some kind of, uh, MOTION, the kind of motion that you don’t really want your dad making on you [or who knows, maybe you do], and when Brooke moves her head to tentatively kiss him it’s clear that Dad is READY to full-on make out with his daughter, right there in front of his wife, son, and the rest of the party! I don’t think you’re going to see that in the next Hilary Duff film. This is what they mean when they say that movies from the 70s [and early 80s] really were different.

Anyway, then Brooke moves both physically and symbolically from the embrace of her father and over to David. Everyone leaves the party at once [the bus must have arrived!] and Dad leaves Brooke and David to go to bed. Then the camera’s perspective remains at the top of the stairs as David pretends to leave, but comes back, and Jade pretends to go to bed. WHY is the POV from the top of the stairs? Is Dad watching? Not quite… Jade and David go at it in the firelight, and eventually Jade’s Mom Ann wakes up and sees them, and stays there watching, seemingly experiencing every human emotion in quick succession.

So David comes over later, and tells Ann that he read some of her old stories in The Atlantic. Mom’s response is: “You don’t have to court us all.” Which is a good point, because David just flatters everyone and seems to have almost no real character of his own. He’s a blank at the center. We find out that Jade’s older brother Keith, played by James Spader in his first role, first brought David to the house, and there are supposed to be hints that Keith has brought other friends home, only to later dump them. This family has some issues.

Anyway, so it becomes apparent that David and Jade are sleeping together, right there in her room, and neither of then shows the slightest bit of shame about it. Dad Hugh is scandalized, but Ann flips into uber-sanctimonious, sarcastic hippie Mom, all shocked and saddened by the uptight, rigid ways of men, evil men, a role which she stays in for the rest of the movie. Then there’s a brief scene in which we see that David’s dad [yeah, what about his family?] encourages his romance over his studies, then David goes over to Jade’s at 2:30 am, and they have sex, David in blue light and Jade in warm amber light.

SPOILERS > > >
So one morning Hugh finds Jade in his medications, because she hasn’t been able to sleep in days and needs a pill. He freaks, mom slathers on more sanctimony, and when David comes over, Hugh insists that he not see Jade for 30 days. This does not sit well.

Then who should happen onto the scene but a young Tom Cruise, who one day at school tells of a prank in which he was trying to start a fire, but the newspapers he was using were too wet and just smoked, and he ended up being crowned a hero for preventing the fire. David hears this and says ‘Hmmmmm….” That night he goes over to Jade’s, where once more a party is taking place. David stands outside, looking in, no longer invited. Blink and you’ll miss a quick shot in which we see Dad Hugh making out with a high school girl. You’ll also notice that the music, which up until now has been all lush and orchestral, suddenly switches to driving pop music, which in this case succeeds in making the energy of the whole film seem more manic and tense.

So once more everyone departs the party at the same time, and in another long dialogue-free scene David lights some newspapers on the porch on fire, goes across the street to wait, waits, then comes back to check—and finds the whole porch REALLY on fire! He wakes the family and gets them out as the house goes up. I must say the whole fire sequence was quite awesome [in the original sense of the word] and very effective. Unfortunately for the movie, however, THAT was your climax, and we still have quite a while to go.

So David gets five years probation, and is sent to stay on a mental ward. Again there’s unusual complexity here, as David is not crazy in the way the other people there are, he’s just quite, quite passionate. He has a good scene screaming at his parents, who start to come more to the forefront now, as he begs them to get him out of there, as the environment and society are truly making him go crazy. Did I mention that his mom is Beatrice Straight, of Amityville II and Poltergeist? Yep. After two years, David is released, which enrages Hugh, and he pretty much goes straight to Ann’s house. She and Hugh have divorced. She welcomes him in, gets him some wine, and REALLY comes on to him. It is quite uncomfortable. Soon after he runs into Hugh in New York, where he now lives with his young girlfriend. Hugh runs out into traffic after him, and gets hit and killed by a cab. I read on the IMDb that this is considered one of the most accomplished stunts, as the guy really gets flipped over a few times by the cab. I also like in here that David has become almost a supernatural curse on this family—throw in a few black crows and change the score and we’d be in The Omen.

David goes back over to Ann’s, where Keith and Hugh’s girlfriend are [Ann gives a funny little speech, quite within earshot, of how she can’t stand the young girlfriend’s stupidity], but none of them know the role David played in Hugh’s death. Ah, complexity. Anyway, Jade comes over, the girlfriend recognizes David, and makes Jade aware that he was present when Hugh died. There’s another last little twist—but I’m going to let you discover that on your own. Brooke ends up left by her mother in a snowy field, having learned the painful way of love.
< < < SPOILERS END

I REALLY liked it. Maybe if I had seen it back in ’81, when more movies featured actual characters and complex psychologies and movies were allowed to explore situations that might be of interest to, you know, ADULTS, it wouldn’t have stood out so much, but compared to the films of today, this is like Anna Karenina. I also always appreciate movies that take place in an unusual milieu, so Jade’s parents with the whole out-of-place hippies thing was very interesting.

Brooke is, as usual, quite good. Hate to say it, but she’s a very good actress! She’s also just a force of nature with her incredible looks, and the movie takes advantage of this. Martin Hewitt as David is also quite a juicy slab of New England roast.

I think there are two reasons this movie is considered such a stinker. The biggest is that it was marketed as a hot, sexy fuck-fest with Brooke, so when audiences got into the theater and were presented with a slow, densely psychological drama, it could only come off as a disappointment. This same sort of thing happened to Eyes Wide Shut. The second problem is that the movie really has no climax, and almost no ending. Great, people have matured. Wow. It might be appropriate to a novel, but it’s extremely anticlimactic on screen, where there’s a reason most movies end with big, visceral climaxes. Because they work! This movie has it’s big, visceral climax in the middle, which makes one feel like the rest of the movie that follows is like some extended epilogue.

Anyway, not the disaster you’ve heard, you just have to adjust your mind to it being a heated psychological drama, not a hot teen sexathon.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! It’s a quite fascinating little psychological portrait.