THREE STARS – Thought-provoking
Though the culture at large tries to convince us that the acquiring of money, sex and power will fulfill our longings and satisfy our souls, our artists know better. John McTiernan in his classic remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” preaches a modern parable persuading us that wealth acquisition is not enough.
Created for far deeper purposes than the acquiring of things, Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) of “Crown Acquisitions” lives in lonely isolation within his New York skyscraper. Having become a financial success worth millions, forty-two year old Crown is no longer satisfied by his accomplishments. His boredom has driven him to attempt impossible thefts of art simply for sport.
With a brilliance that catches both the audience and the art museum off-guard, Crown plans a caper in which he steals the $100 million dollar “Impressionism Sunrise” by Monet. The police investigation of the theft is soon joined by Catherine Banning (Rene Russo) who is an equally exceptional free-lance bounty hunter who has been hired by the insurance company to recover the painting. It is in this match between Crown and Banning which creates the many levels of tension within the film.
Though we won’t spoil the excellently conceived intrigue within the film, the far more important message of life’s meanings is especially suited for our concerns.
The lonely isolation many successful people experience is difficult to understand only if the assumption is made that being a success is our purpose in life. Thinking we are pursuing happiness when we pursue wealth, sex or power, our empty achievements only leave us confused and seeking more.
But where do we turn if fulfillment is not found in the achievement of our goals? If the first million does not bring happiness, then will five or five hundred million? If the first glimpse of notoriety doesn’t satisfy, then will international, life-long fame? If limited power is incomplete, then will ultimate power be enough? If a one-night sexual experience is empty, then will a string of such experiences or even marriages bring pleasure?
Thomas Crown is a universal symbol for such an attempt to find fulfillment. As his name implies, he has reached the “crown” of life and lives a kingly existence. But the price he has paid for his fortune is his inability to trust and love others. He has no friends except those he pays to be near him as employees and lawyers.
Attempting to find his way out of the golden prison of his soul, Crown seeks a guide. But instead of turning to God or to transcendent meanings for his life, he turns to a psychiatrist played by Faye Dunaway. In a style of interaction which is more like that of a sarcastic big sister than a professional counselor, Dunaway ridicules his attempts to find love with Banning. She points out that he has only found the mirror image of his own self-absorbed personality.
This is often true of our attempts to create meaning for ourselves. Rather than receiving the transformation of our souls which recreates us into loving persons who give ourselves to God and others, we fall in love with our own dysfunctional counterparts.
Banning is a woman who uses men in the same way, as Crown is a man who uses women. Both have extremely attractive bodies which they have styled into sophisticated weapons. Crown was a poor boy who used his boxing skills to get a college scholarship and refashioned himself from his speech to his attire.
Banning is a woman who was born a poor Midwestern girl who had an affair with the son of a European dignitary and remade herself into a multi-lingual and international private detective.
Neither Banning nor Crown have family or friends. They are tied to no one and show little compassion toward others. Both are willing to use their money, power, sex or any item in their possession to get what they want. Neither trusts the other. They are willing to betray each other to protect themselves.
But, in the midst of their mutual attraction however shallow and dysfunctional, there comes hope. They eventually begin to value their relationship more than anything else in their lives. This fledgling love is the only power which, if nourished, can bring them the happiness they long to experience.
“The Thomas Crown Affair” is a film with nudity and adult themes not suitable for children or youth which exposes the emptiness of reaching the top of American culture. As a parable of the emptiness of modern life, it is a masterpiece. As a guide to filling such emptiness, it leaves us wanting far more.