Last night we watched an odd little movie entitled Venus.  It stars Peter O’Toole, looking most of his 70+ years.  He is paired up with another veteran actor, Leslie Phillips, as well as a brand-spankin’ new actress by the name of  Jodie Whittaker. 

It’s a story of relationships, a story of needs and the lengths that people will go to fulfill them, and how ultimately, fulfillment can be had in ways we never would have imagined.  It’s odd in that the love story is between O’Toole, who is in his 70’s, and Whittaker, who was about 23 or so at the time the movie was made.

Of course, we have the natural horror at the idea that a 70-year old man could be infatuated sexually with a 20-something.  And we have a slightly slighter sense of horror for the idea of a woman interested in a man 50 years her senior.  There seems to be a cultural assumption that men should grow out of their younger sexual tastes, while women are assumed to be willing and able to handle an odd pairing if there is something – popularly assumed to be financial – that she can get out of the relationship.

It reminds me of a high school friend of mine who once was commenting – now that we’re 20 years out of high school – that he still thought high school girls were hot.  His theory is that dirty old men aren’t really perverted, they’ve just maintained their same notions of beauty and attractiveness over time.  Whereas some – perhaps many? – men gradually find that the drawbacks of extreme comparative youth in a woman outweigh the attractions, some don’t.  For some, hot is always hot.  The physicality of attraction is always the predominate factor in attraction.

This movie seems to reinforce that in touching ways.  O’Toole’s character has always had a wandering eye.  Has always sought out new beauty and the attendant beauties it conveys, regardless of who he hurt or abandoned along the way.  He’s been an emotional and sexual wrecking ball, careening through the lives of those around him.  This hasn’t changed now that he’s in his 70’s, but it has reduced his opportunities.

Jodie’s character, Jessie, has abandonment issues, and aches from being forced into having an abortion by her mother.  Nobody seems to have ever really loved her very long, or for more than the physical pleasure her body is able to provide.  Maurice (O’Toole) is the first man to take a real interest in her.  But of course, his interest is also physical. 

The relationship devolves into a kind of bartering system.  Crudely put, she exchanges brief touches of her hand or shoulder for earrings and attention.  More poignantly put, they each offer one another the best they have ever figured out how to give – he the captivated attention that women desire, she the physical response that he desires.  It might be prostitution, if there also weren’t a desperate need in both people for something more than a business transaction.  They seek affirmation.  They seek valuation.  They seek a sense of worthiness and attractiveness to one another.  But if you don’t know how to give good gifts, you give your bad gifts – not in a desire to hurt, but because you genuinely have no idea how to love. 

It was a curious movie on many levels.  O’Toole is of course a fantastic actor.  Whittaker was passable in her youthful awkwardness and thick accent.  She did a good job of portraying the desperate uncertainty of youth, masquerading under the apathy and jadedness appropriate to a much older woman.

And as always, I can’t help but think that what both characters lacked was a valuation independent of who they were and what they had to offer themselves, one another, or the world.  A valuation independent of their age and physical abilities, independent of the whimsical attentions or neglect of others.  A valuation dependent on the fact that they were planned from eternity, valued simply for the fact that they have been thus planned and created, valued to the point that someone gave His life for them – not because of who they are, but because of whose they are. 

I appreciate films that are honest.   But it’s sad when that honesty is so bereft of hope, of peace, of joy.  We’re left settling for such crumbs from one another, when we’ve been invited to a banquet, a feast. 

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