It might be a consequence of living in New York (where it takes place, albeit in a very different New York than mine), but Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience unsettled me as much as any movie I saw last year.
Not bad for a barely plotted, mostly improvised, movie about a high-priced escort.
It’s no secret that most movies about prostitution aren’t really about sex, but it is interesting to come across one that isn’t really about intimacy, or even relationships. Instead, it’s about economics. And what’s scarier right now than economics?
Filmed and set during a few days in late October of 2008, The Girlfriend Experience captures the feeling settled over the city in the time just after the financial crisis well and truly blossomed, when we all realized, regardless of our professional proximity to Wall Street, that we were in long-term trouble. More than that, it nails the way in which New York (or most cities, I’d imagine) runs on a combination of money and dreams, and how a disruption in the former messes with the latter.
In The Girlfriend Experience, every character who isn’t rich is chasing self-sufficiency, and are circling those who have the money to make that happen. The characters with money, meanwhile, seem willfully ignorant of the effect they have on the people around them. They’re focused on their own emotional needs.
When the financial crisis starts mucking up the equilibrium of this system, people’s dreams are even more effected than their lives. What’s chilling is the sense that, in the absence of the hope for either upward mobility or “having it all,” there’s very little left except the sense that at some point most of us got sold a bill of goods about what it means to be successful or to be happy. Once those possibilities start disappearing from the table, the question “What now?” seems to echo through the movie.
And “What now?” was a scary question in 2008 that’s only gotten scarier.