Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

Perhaps this twenty-year-old plus movie could be more accurately called, “The Unbearable Duress of 151 Minutes of Watching This Film.”

Granted, if you do make it to the end there is a whole lot of terrific eye candy to help pass the time. For the ladies, there is Daniel Day-Lewis as Tomas, a brilliant Czech brain surgeon who you get to see mostly naked during his many, many lovemaking scenes. There is even better news for men, or anyone attracted to the female form. Because Tomas is very generous with his passion, and he enjoys getting to know as many attractive women in the biblical sense as possible, even after he is technically married. Two big loves of Tomas get plenty of screen time either partially or fully undressed and I must say both Sabina (Lena Olin) and Tereza (Juliette Binoche) are stunning in and out of their clothes. Who needs porn when you can drool over such exquisitely beautiful women? There is even a sort of lesbian scene between them near the end of the movie, which, I’m sorry, just does not work. However, I do like to see two women getting naked and seducing each other, I just expected it would more likely be on a porn site.

If The Unbearable Lightness of Being had been marketed as a movie about a satyr bedding as many women in the 9-10 scale as possible, perhaps I would have a higher opinion of the movie. Alas, no, this is a movie with pretensions. It begins in Czechoslovakia just before the Russian invasion in August of 1968. All is fine for Tomas, who is not only a brilliantly successful surgeon but has his choice of any woman he meets, who instantly fall for him. Then the Russian Army inconveniently invades his country and the movie is supposed to get all serious.

Only it doesn’t really get serious. The Russian occupation is something of a tangent to the main theme, which is Tomas’ bed hopping and infidelity. Can Tomas really get serious about any woman? Indeed, he can, just as long as she does not expect fidelity. This becomes a real problem for Tereza, a barkeep at a resort he visits who naturally falls madly in love with and convinces him to marry her. Nor can Sabina keep her body off his once he has a ring on his finger. Neither can any of the women, once he looks at them with his dark and sexy eyes. Whether his country is or is not being occupied, whether living under the yoke of oppression or in freedom in nearby Switzerland, Tomas simply has to keep poking women. That’s what he does. He just loves everything about women, except I guess respecting their feelings for fidelity. Oddly, though with all that messing around, he never makes anyone pregnant.

Perhaps in the hands of a better director (although Philip Kaufman does not usually turn out dreck) this movie could have worked. Unfortunately, casting Daniel Day-Lewis as Tomas was a really bad choice because while Day-Lewis can look stunningly handsome, when the part requires something other than a dazed, gosh aren’t I lucky to be bedding so many beautiful women look, he cannot deliver. All he can do is be an exceptional surgeon, bed beautiful women and keep a half sincere smile on his face, even when Russian tanks are rolling down his street. The film is supposed to show Tomas growing as a human being, but Day-Lewis never delivers. It is all implied, you just never see it or feel it. Instead, you realize Tomas is a very vapid human being, which I doubt is what comes out in the book. After a while you have to pity the women he seduces, for while they are under his spell any common sense they have goes right out the window.

So, if you watch this movie you may well find yourself reacting much like me, “What the hell?” What was the point of making this movie? Granted, spending nearly three hours seeing stunningly beautiful women either partially or fully naked is not a bad use of my time, I just got the impression that there was supposed to be more to this movie than eye candy.

Despite attempts to make us think there is more than this, there is not. The film would make great soft-core pornography. Leave the sex scenes in and take the rest out and both the men and the women would be happy. It’s all that other stuff in between the sex scenes simply does not work, like those odd scenes of his farmer friend who carries around a pet pig.

I have to assume that the book the movie is based on has a lot more merit than the film, so if given the choice read the book and skip the movie unless you find yourself alone and need to get off. If so there will be plenty of licentious behavior by extremely beautiful people to light your fire.

2.5 on my four-point scale.

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