Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
By: Brianna Studer
Paul Mazursky directed a real gem of a sex farce with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice that is just so far out there and absurd in some of its ways that it’s hilarious. Robert Culp plays Bob, a documentary filmmaker who brings his wife Carol (played by Natalie Wood) on a trip to make a film about The Institute. The camera scans the location showing a whole slew of uncensored nudity and community baths, ensuring that we know exactly what we’re getting into. The Institute is a getaway weekend program that promotes openness and love for individuals who are missing something in life. The Institute reminded me of a hippy cult in the mountains, and I did not expect Bob and Carol to take a liking to this new open mindset and way of life. At one point during the weekend program at The Institute, I and I’m sure many other members of the audience, felt very awkward. This is due to the actors staring into each other’s eyes to try and learn about each other without saying a word. Maybe I’m just different, but personally long periods of eye contact make me anxious. Regardless, that scene exhibited great acting and emotions that followed later into the film.
I wondered if Bob and Carol had truly absorbed this new life of sexual liberation and emotional freedom, or if they had copped out as they had been accused of so many times before. This really reminded me of the classic male dominated relationship where the female pretends everything is okay just to keep the peace. However, at a dinner date with their friends Ted and Alice (played by Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon), Bob and Carol tried to break down their barriers by directing every statement to how each person truly felt, without holding back. “The truth is always beautiful.”
Although everyone wants to be honest, it’s very difficult. With this dilemma of truthfulness, Bob and Carol each cheat on each other, but immediately forgive, and are even more in love with their spouse for feeling open enough to tell them everything, even the bad, about their life. No matter the era, cheating is generally always frowned upon, but Alice was exceptionally disappointed in her friends’ choices, which seemed to cause tension in their friendship. Alice is also the only one in the friend group who won’t let loose and smoke marijuana, while the other three of the double date seemed to be flirting and touching a little too much for my comfort. I saw this flirtation as foreshadowing the possibility of the drama to occur later in the film.
With this, I was entirely correct. More drama occurred. Eventually Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice finally reach a breaking point, and draw a line that won’t be crossed in their exploration of sexual freedom. In the end, they’re just two normal married couples who try very hard to be eccentric and groovy, but just can’t quite make it.
The best audience would be young adults who are engaged in the sexual revolution from traditional conservative values and are interested in the possibilities of open relationships. These couples break so many of the rules of the era, and commit countless taboos. The result of this some people may find questionable, but at the end they end up right back where they are supposed to be. This is an excellent movie, and I would highly recommend it. If you can get past the high level of sexuality, and look deep into the dialogue and acting, you will see how beautiful it is, which is just about how beautiful the truth is.