Plot description :
A prim and proper British couple, Fiona (Thomas) and Nigel (Grant), are on a Mediterranean cruise ship to Istanbul, en route to India. They encounter another couple on the ship, the seductive Frenchwoman Mimi (Seigner) and her paraplegic American husband Oscar (Coyote), a failed and self-centered writer.
The story unfolds as Oscar invites Nigel to his cabin, where he recalls, in a series of episodes, how he and the much younger Mimi met on a bus in Paris and fell in love; and then how their relationship went horribly wrong.
During a series of flashbacks, Oscar recounts how his and Mimi’s love developed and took a darker turn. They explored bondage, sado-masochism and voyeurism. Slowly, their self-absorbed relationship decayed, and the bored Oscar tried to break-up with Mimi. She begged him to let her live with him under any conditions, and he took advantage of the opportunity to explore sadistic fantasies at her expense.
Oscar increasingly subjected Mimi to public humiliation, until she became pregnant. Oscar persuaded her that he would be a terrible father and that she should have an abortion. While she was recovering, Oscar visited her and was shocked by her condition. He almost relented in his attempts to drive her away but instead promised her a holiday somewhere exotic. On the plane, Oscar pretended that his luggage wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin and went to find help from an attendant. He then abandoned the flight, leaving Mimi on board.
Oscar’s tale continues with him immersing himself in a world of parties and one-night stands for the next two years. This hedonistic lifestyle ended when he drunkenly stepped in front of a vehicle. A much more confident Mimi visited him in hospital, where he was recovering from minor injuries and a broken leg. By manipulating Oscar’s traction device, the vengeful Mimi crippled Oscar, so that he became a paraplegic.
Mimi then informed Oscar that she would look after him and moved back into the apartment to be his full-time caretaker. She reveled in dominating and humiliating him, to the extent that she seduced friends in front of him. Oscar was filled with self-loathing and, by the time of his meeting with Nigel, seems to believe that he deserves this treatment.
Nigel is both shocked and appalled. However, he is intrigued by Mimi and encouraged by Oscar to have an affair with her but lacks the confidence to approach her directly. His wife, Fiona, repeatedly warns him not to stray too far. Anything he can do, she can do better.
Later during a shipboard New Year’s Eve party, Nigel attempts to dance with Mimi, but she seems only partially interested. Oscar tells him to try harder or risk losing her to another. As Nigel attempts again to woo Mimi, she informs him that Fiona has arrived and that she is watching them.
Nigel hurriedly greets Fiona, and learns that Oscar had reminded her to come to the party. Fiona is not impressed with Nigel’s behaviour but is with Mimi. The two ladies take to the dance floor and are encouraged by the crowd to dance passionately and to embrace. Together the ladies leave, and Nigel is crestfallen. Oscar’s attempts to philosophize serve only to enrage him. He goes outside and screams his frustration into the wind and waves.
Later, we see Nigel awaken from a drunken stupor and go looking for Fiona. He finds her in Mimi’s cabin, where Oscar claims that he has watched the ladies exhaust themselves sexually. In a moment of rage, Nigel grabs Oscar’s throat only to have a gun pointed at him. Oscar is clearly highly distressed and shoots the sleeping Mimi several times as Fiona cowers beside her. Oscar then commits suicide by blowing off the back of his head.
At the end, we see the bodies of Oscar and Mimi being stretchered off the ship. Fiona and Nigel are left embracing one another and sobbing as the credits start to roll.
In the midst of the intense, sexual narratives and the interactions aboard the ship, Nigel and Fiona also encounter a distinguished Indian gentleman, who is traveling with his very young daughter and who, with his child, represents stability and normality. As Nigel and Fiona collapse at the film’s end, the gentleman encourages his little girl to comfort them. The suggestion, which some critics attributed to Polanski’s own experience of fatherhood by the time the film was made, is that a stable family life is infinitely superior to the instability of bachelorhood and risky erotic experimentation. (wikipedia)
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