December 8, 2013

Queer Review: Eating Raoul (1982)

Eating Raoul
Director: Paul Bartel
Writers: Paul Bartel and Richard Blackburn
Cast: Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, Paul Bartel, Susan Saiger, Richard Paul, Darcy Pulliam, John Shearin

A cult classic from early 80's, Eating Raoul offers up an interesting menu of the blackest bits of comedy one can imagine. A clever, albeit weakly acted effort, Paul Bartel manages to offer an offbeat perspective on human sexuality and deviance.

A prudish couple, Paul and Mary Bland (Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov) want little more than to open a restaurant and live happily ever after. However, financial difficulties relating to their inability to get a loan (amongst other issues) make it seem like this dream is unlikely to ever come true. But when a drunken man attempts to rape Mary, Paul kills him with a frying pan in self defense. Rather than go to the police, the two take his money and decide to raise money for their restaurant by killing other "perverts". Things start to get out of hand though when Raoul (Robert Beltran) finds out about the scheme and forces the Blands to cut him in.

The Queering
Hollywood (and society in general) is so enamored in the sexy sexiness of sex, that it can sometimes be easy to forget that not everyone collapses into lustful convulsions of lusty lustiness at the mere sight of a bit of exposed flesh. The human sex drive is a well honed engine for many people, but it is by no means a universal characteristic. There do exist such people who experience no sexual desire towards any other person, in spite of the fact that society attempts us to bludgeon everyone into thinking otherwise.

Admittedly the way society promotes compulsory sexuality flies in the face of the way more conservative elements treat sex as something dirty and shameful. But those same prudes who scream the hardest about the ebilness of sexy sex, are also the ones most likely to be downloading porn and such.

Enter Paul and Mary Bland, a couple who genuinely shuns sex both in words and deed. Like Adam and Eve cast from the garden of Eden, the two find themselves in the cruel wild where they are constantly beset upon on all sides by display of raw sensuality. They speak of engaging in cuddling and a little kissing, but nothing more. When they go to bed, they sleep in separate beds. Paul can be easily read as asexual and not in a subtext kind of way. His attitude and behaviour is consistent with that of asexual desire.

As presented in the film, Mary is a little bit more complicated. She expresses similar antipathy as Paul to naked pretzel type activities, but after Raoul gets her to smoke a Thai stick, she has sex with him. And then goes on to have sex with him several more times. She eventually ends up rejecting Raoul but the affair makes it difficult to read her strictly as an asexual.

Then there is Raoul, who is undoubtedly the most problematic character. Not only is Raoul both Hispanic and a thief, which represents a racist stereotype in of itself, but his ethnic identity is used to further exoticize him.

Of course, even further problems are represented by the fact that the Blands are technically speaking, serial killers. Given their sophistication and lack of sexuality, the Blands eventual descent into cannibalism makes them clear cinematic forerunners to Hannibal the Cannibal from The Silence of the Lambs. Which of course means that they evoke the trope that sexual deviance = bloody violent psychopaths. The wrinkle here is that these sexual deviants are sexual deviants precisely because they engage in the most conservative, 1950s-esque, Hays Code approved lifestyle possible. Talk about subversive...

The humor in Eating Raoul can charitably be labeled as subdued. There is wit and sophistication here, but one has to be paying close attention to get it. It doesn't help much that the acting, while not too terrible, is often bordering on amateurish. It also says something about my particular sense of humor that the moment that made me laugh the hardest involved killing a large number of people via the oh-so-subtle method of chucking an electric lantern into a crowded hot tub. Now let the recommendations that I need professional help commence in 3... 2... 1...

Worth eating any slimy bit of human flesh (from Raoul or not) in order to see.

The Rating
3.5 out of 4 stars


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.