In the Company of Menrecommended viewing

I can’t hear you when you’re lying
★★★★
Released: 
1997
Director: 
Neil LaBute
Starring: 
Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacy Edwards
The Setup: 
Two guys on a six-week assignment decide to court a deaf woman, then dump her, just to be mean.
Discussion: 

I really dug this movie. As my friend Dan said about it: “I like it when things are really obvious, but they WORK.” This one is really clear and schematic about what it’s doing, yet if you’re into what it’s doing [and not outraged] you can let it take you along for a really interesting, provocative and moving ride.

Aaron Eckhart, my new long-distance imaginary boyfriend [Aaron, call me!], plays Chad, a handsome, racist, misogynist consultant or some such. His co-worker and boss is Matt Malloy as Howard, who looks a little pig-like in the manner of Karl Rove, and is obviously less smart, less hateful—and less obsessed. It becomes quite clear early on that Chad is OBSESSED with the slights he perceives coming from women, his bosses, and minorities. What’s more, he keeps saying that someone should do something about it—as though someone CAN do something about it. As though “showing” one person will affect the entire phenomenon.

Anyway, Howard was dumped by his girlfriend, who is now calling his parents [there is a hilarious scene in which Howard is berated by his mother on an office phone], and Chad tells him that his girlfriend also dumped him. Chad has the idea that, since they’re both in this strange town for six weeks, they’ll pick a vulnerable woman and both court her, then later simultaneously dump her, just for the thrill of it. “She’ll be reaching for the sleeping pills within a week,” says Chad, “and we’ll be laughing until we’re very old men.” Chad then talks about this as being some sort of achievement they will have to look back on throughout their lives. The weak and somewhat dumb Howard reluctantly goes along. It reminded me of Rope several times, as there’s obviously a dominant and a submissive in this relationship, and a lot of the interest of the dominant is not so much with the woman who is his supposed target, but with the other man.

But during all this there’s the whole layer—obvious, yet it works—that their anger and cruelty is the result of passing on the results of the dehumanizing, emasculating world of business. They are forced to upend their lives for six weeks, travel over holiday weekends, and work in a horrible half-finished workplace. This is in addition to the everyday emasculation and dehumanization of regular office work. There is a hilarious scene in which Chad looks through a company roster and says “Oh that guy; I HATE him. Oh, and see this guy? What a fucking prick. And this guy?...” There’s also a very slyly funny scene in which Chad goes on about some guy that “you need to watch your back” around, and Howard says “okay, I’ll be careful” several times, leading Chad to just start in again: “I tell ya, you gotta watch your back around that prick.”

Anyway, soon they identify their victim, a deaf office worker named Christine. This leads to several very darkly funny scenes [remember—this is classified as a comedy] in which Chad comes on all sweet and sensitive to Christine. It’s funny just for how much we know he is lying, most potently during a scene in which Chad pretends to berate himself for being insensitive in the way he thinks of deaf people, and she ends up consoling him. Howard is also romancing her, though it’s fairly obvious early on that he is developing genuine feelings for her.

There is a scene that takes place in a car being pulled through a nature preserve, which is very strange [and I liked], wherein Howard admits that he was being untruthful about some minor thing, and wherein Christine says “Just remember, I can’t hear you when you’re lying,” which sort of sums up her predicament in a moving way. Earlier on I thought she was going to be completely mute, which I was into, as that would cast the light completely on the men’s behavior, but no, eventually she speaks. Did I mention that Stacy Edwards as Christine is absolutely lovely and does a wonderful job of conveying all the complex emotions the character has to go through here?

I’m going to discuss the ending of the film after this, so if you haven’t seen it, you really owe it to yourself to stop reading now. But know that it is very well put-together and provocative, and definitely worth a watch.

SPOILERS TO END > > >
At the end it is revealed that Chad’s girlfriend never left him [the ostensible reason for the prank] and his real purpose all along was to fuck with Howard. But you know that, right? Because you wouldn’t have read beyond the spoiler mark if you hadn’t seen the movie, right? Because you know I’m going to come right out there and kick your ass if you did…

Anyway, looking back, we can see a bunch of clues that add up in these final moments. The first is when Chad gets Howard to come on to a woman that isn’t Christine. Then later, when Chad tells Howard that he is actually developing feelings for Christine, and you start to wonder: is he? Or is he just trying to manipulate Howard? [this kind of tension is very much a part of CdM fave The Honeymoon Killers, which, if you like this one, you better watch, or I may have to threaten violence again.] Then, if you listen carefully, toward the end there’s a few lines in which Chad says that he’s been in Howard’s office or hotel room. And then there’s the very viable question; did Chad purposely change whatever papers he was supposed to have for that remote meeting in order to get Howard fired? I like how the movie hints at that and doesn’t really tell you.

In any case, what’s interesting in retrospect is that the hatred here is not between men and women, but between these two men. And of course I’m interested in how the sexual tension and competition is really between the men all along, and the woman just serves as the conduit through which it occurs. I did say way back when that there was a very dom / sub aspect to their relationship, and just a very diffuse sexuality creeping around the edges [I am NOT saying either character is secretly gay, I’m saying there are subtle homoerotic twinges to the story—but I’m very Freud-influenced, so extreme hate and aggression counts as erotic energy to me]. This comes out most clearly when Chad says that he broke into Howard’s hotel room before having sex with Christine for the first time, and immediately after breaking up with her. This all makes Chad a sort of Iago figure, in that he is motivated out of a jealous sexualized hatred of his “friend,” and sets about ruining his life as a way of getting satisfaction for himself.

The two last lines for each character are well-done. Chad’s girlfriend hears Howard in the other room, but Chad tells her it was just him, talking to himself. “When I get going,” he says, “I can sound like just about anyone.” Then Howard makes one last ditch attempt at regaining Christine, and ends up screaming “Listen!” to a deaf woman. Like I said—it’s obvious, but it works. < < < SPOILERS END

Should you watch it: 

Yes. It’s really interesting on many levels, well-written and performed, and you get to look at Aaron Eckhart [or Stacy Edwards, if, you know, you’re into that].