Film and Plot Synopsis
Sex, Lies, and Videotape was the winner of both Palme d’Or and Best Actor (James Spader) awards at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. Ann Bishop Mullany is a sexually repressed woman who is unhappily married to her husband John, a junior partner at a local law firm. John is involved in an affair with Ann’s extrovert sister Cynthia unbeknownst to Ann. When John’s old college friend Graham comes to town, the stoic but honest Graham puts everyone’s lives on a collision course for confrontation.
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‘sex, lies, and videotape’ Movie Summary
Ann’s life changes dramatically when an old college friend of John’s, Graham Dalton (James Spader), comes to town to establish some roots. Graham has not seen John in nine years and spent most of that time drifting from town to town. Graham arrives at the Mullany house while John is at work. He engages Ann in some awkward conversation. John had previously invited Graham to stay with them until he finds an apartment in Baton Rouge. When John arrives home, Graham’s demeanor becomes remarkably more guarded. Graham realizes that he no longer has anything in common with John, a man who lives his life as a liar. However, Graham and Ann get along very well.
The next day, Graham and Ann go looking for apartments together for Graham. They are successful and stop and have lunch. During lunch, Ann asks Graham to share something personal about himself. Graham responds by telling her that he is impotent and that he can no longer achieve erections in front of another person. The sexually repressed Ann is taken back by his candor. She shares with him that she sees a therapist. Graham expresses his skepticism about therapy and states that he believes that you can never be truly open with a person unless you have been intimate with them. Meanwhile, John takes advantage of Ann’s absence from the home to invite Cynthia over for the purpose of sex. Cynthia forgets one of her pearl earrings at the house when she leaves.
You know, I’d like to do it at your house sometime. I must admit, the idea of doing it in my sister’s bed gives me a perverse thrill. Cynthia Bishop
Shortly afterwards, Ann stops by for a visit at Graham’s apartment. While there, she notes that Graham has dozens of videotapes with women’s names on them. Graham explains that the tapes contain interviews with women about their sexual experiences and fantasies. Once again, Ann is taken back by Graham’s openness and candor about a subject that she does not like to discuss. She quickly leaves Graham’s place. She talks to Cynthia on the phone and tells her sister how strange Graham is without telling her about the tapes. Ann tells Cynthia not to visit Graham’s place, which is the equivalent of issuing a challenge to Cynthia.
The next day, Cynthia appears uninvited at Graham’s place and presses him to explain what freaked Ann out. The open Graham explains that Ann was disturbed by his videotapes and admits to Cynthia that he is impotent when in the presence of a woman, and that he achieves sexual gratification by watching the videos in private. Graham asks Cynthia if she would like to make a tape and assures her that no one else will see the tape. Cynthia sheepishly agrees but during the interview, becomes extremely comfortable with Graham and the session, even removing her skirt and panties. She separately tells Ann and John about the experience afterwards, and both are horrified about the idea.
One night, Ann confronts John about having an affair, even going as far as to suggest that it is with Cynthia. John denies any affairs and tries to turn the tables on Ann for becoming frigid. Ann seems satisfied with his denials. However, the next day Ann discovers Cynthia’s missing pearl earring in her bedroom while she is vacuuming. She concludes that the two are having an affair. Furious, Ann drives immediately to Graham’s house. She tells him about the affair, to which he replies that he knows because Cynthia told him in her interview. Ann asks to make a videotape, which Graham objects to stating that she is not in the right frame of mind. Ann insists and Graham starts the camera.
Afterwards, Ann and Graham appear to share an intimate moment together before Ann returns home. Once home, she demands a divorce from John and reveals that she made a tape with Graham. The small minded and insecure John rushes to Graham’s place. He punches Graham in the face and throws him out of his own home, locking the door behind him. John then proceeds to watch his wife’s interview tape.
On the tape, Ann states that she has never felt any kind of satisfaction from sex, including achieving orgasm. Graham asks her if she has ever thought of having sex with other men besides John, and she admits she has thought of Graham. During the interview, Ann turns the camera on Graham and asks him questions about his sexual proclivities. Graham resists but ultimately confesses that he is haunted by his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth, a woman that he mistreated before.
He tells Ann that he used to be a pathological liar which destroyed his relationship with Elizabeth. In the years since, Graham explains that he has gone to great lengths to keep people at a distance and avoid relationships at all costs. Graham states that one of his motivations for returning to Baton Rouge was an attempt to achieve some closure with Elizabeth. Ann takes Graham’s hand and places it to her face before kissing him. Graham gets up and turns off the camcorder, ending Ann’s interview.
A solemn John walks out of Graham’s house. He tells his now former friend that he had slept with Elizabeth years before while she and Graham were together. He takes a perverse joy in trying to hurt Graham. After John leaves, Graham goes back into his house and destroys all the videotapes and his camcorder.
The next day, John is discussing his forthcoming divorce with a colleague, implying that it was his idea. He tries to reach a high-profile client on the phone that he has been blowing off to attend his trysts with Cynthia. However, the client’s receptionist informs John that he has retained new counsel. John is also summoned to his boss’s office, implying that he is about to be fired. Ann reconciles with Cynthia, who appears somewhat apologetic for her part in the end of Ann’s relationship. Afterwards, Ann goes to Graham’s house and joins him on the front porch. The two hold hands and talk about the weather.
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