Sunday, July 19, 2015
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Guess what? Here we have another movie where things are not what they seem. Director Alan J. Pakula’s film takes its title from the name of Donald Sutherland’s character, John Klute. But, this story is really about the prostitute/actress Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda, in an Oscar-winning performance). On the surface the narrative is a mystery/thriller, but, it is really about the roles played by men and women in society.
In the very first scene, we have people enjoying food, drink, and each other’s company at a dinner table. Everything appears safe and civilized. Klute is there, as well as Tom Gruneman (Robert Milli), his wife, Holly (Betty Murray), and Tom’s boss, Peter Cable (Charles Cioffi), a distinguished looking man with gray hair. There is a pocket-sized tape recorder sitting on the table, recording the event. We don’t know who owns the recorder. However, we later hear Bree’s voice played back on the device in an encounter with an weird “John.” So, we learn whoever owns the recorder is dangerous.
We discover that Tom is missing, and the FBI is at a dead end in its investigation. Tom’s wife, Holly, with Cable at her side, hires Klute, Tom’s best friend, a policeman-turned-private investigator, to find out what happened to her husband. A typed obscene letter from Tom to Bree was found at Tom’s office. Bree testified that she received a number of letters from Tom, but could not identify him by his photograph, since it all took place two years prior. She has a sense that she is being watched before Klute arrives. She says that she received phone calls from an unidentified person, and that someone was messing with her trash and mail.
Klute goes to
York, but initially encounters hostility when
approaching Bree. He rents a small basement apartment in the building where she
lives. He is sort of a voyeur, watching her and listening, and taping Bree. The
possibility that he is the owner of the tape recorder is raised. But we then
see the back of a man observing the two, and Klute chases, but does not catch,
someone who is on the roof of Bree’s building. He is just doing his job, and resists
Bree’s attempt at seduction to acquire his tapes so they would not be used
against her. But he could be the antagonist’s double, chasing his darker self,
implying that we all have those voyeuristic tendencies that could push us
through a scary doorway.
When we first see Bree at an audition she is sitting in a row with many other attractive women. A male casting agent goes up and down the line of women, rejecting them for just the way they appear, like a person going through a menu dismissing dishes to eat. We later are at therapy sessions, where Bree says that she has no power over being chosen for roles. But, when she “plays” the part of the prostitute, she calls the shots. She is allowed to act as the seductress, manipulating her clients. She does not get pleasure from the sex, but achieves enjoyment in the acting performance, which is more like a simulation of a powerful event. She appears to get real satisfaction in this escape from the “real” world. (Apparently Fonda did the therapy session scenes at the end of the filming so she could be deep into the character’s journey, improvising her lines with a real female psychiatrist). But, she admits to her therapist that she wants out of the hooker business, because it has become an addiction, and she realizes that she plays the sex roles that men have defined for her.
Bree has contempt for the “straight world,” because to her it is a hyprocrisy, where men pretend to be upright and moral. She has seen the ugly underside of these pretenders in her profession. When she taunts Klute about what strange sexual practices he may really like, he tells her that she is acting “pathetic.” At first, she feels angry at him, probably because his decency shames her. He makes her bed, soothes her, and brings her cool compresses. One night, she goes to his basement apartment because she says she is afraid. She climbs into his bed, and they have sex. She later acts as if she has compromised him. She says don’t feel bad, because she never climaxes with a “John.” She demeans him by putting him into the category of one of her clients. She says don’t feel bad about “losing your virtue” with her, because in her pessimistic world, “everyone does.” She wants to bring him down to her level, so she can feel more at ease with her depravity, her shortcomings. When Klute attacks her pimp, Frank Ligourin (Roy Scheider) after he says demeaning things about Bree, she tries to protect her pimp, going after Klute with scissors. This act shows what a threat Klute is to her lifestyle. She says to her therapist that she normally does not like being truly intimate with a man because she can be vulnerable, caring about another. There is comfort in numbness. But, she likes being physical with Klute. He likes her even though he has seen her at her worse. Isn’t this part of what constitutes true affection?
Bree tells Klute about a man who beat her. She was given this client by another prostitute, Jane McKenna. Klute and Bree go to her pimp to find out more information. McKenna was jealous of Bree’s success and approval from Ligourin. So, she passed on the beater to Bree as a punishment. McKenna was later found dead, apparently by suicide. Klute and Bree then seek out another hooker friend, Arlyn Page (Dorothy Tristen). She and her boyfriend are pathetic junkies. Bree starts to see her world through Klute’s eyes, and realizes the life that could be hers as she observes Page. The latter looks at the photo of the missing man, Tom Gruneman, and says he is not the beater, who was older.
The audience now is shown the villain – the outwardly upstanding businessman Peter Cable. Again, things are not what they seem. The antagonist on the surface seems like a friend of the family, helping them solve the mystery of the missing man. But, he actually uses information from Klute to further his own twisted agenda. The small tape recorder is his, and we see him listen to Bree’s voice who he recorded on the night he beat her. On the recording, Bree says that “nothing is wrong.” She has wicked ideas. She means sexual ones, which is what her clients want to hear. But ideas can be hurtful when words and actions spring from them. Klute finds out that the second hooker, Arlyn Page is dead. Bree’s apartment was trashed and semen was found on her clothes. The semen does not match Tom’s, so Klute knows that the missing man is not the perpetrator. He now suspects that the killer murdered the two prostitutes and Gruneman to cover his tracks. Page died after Klute confided about her to Cable. Klute also runs a test and the letters to Bree were produced by Cable’s typewriter. The businessman pretended to be Gruneman with the prostitutes, and killed him when he found out about the fraud. Cable finds Bree at the factory of one of her clients where she went for sanctuary. She hides there after closing hours. Cable plays his tape of her, and tries to kill her. But, Klute arrives, and Cable kills himself by jumping out of the window. He would not be able to endure the exposing of his black deeds to the light of the waking world.
Most of the film is shot in darkened rooms. Perhaps that is because we all go to Bree’s world in our hidden thoughts. Most of us do not act on those thoughts. Maybe that is why we vicariously participate in the nightmare realm by watching movies.