carnal Knowledge (1971)

I normally watch 42,000 movies a week. Few of them stick with me.

Carnal Knowledge, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel’s pubic hair, has.

It’s a movie I could’ve written back in my college days. Particularly the first act, about two college guys that know next to nothing about women who try to score with Candice Bergen. Of course, Mike Nichols aces the direction by presenting the two characters in all their pathetic glory. Bergen is also handled nicely as she plays a confused girl torn between these two dorks. Imagine watching a dramatized version of Beavis and Butthead in college, that’s the first act of the film.

Naturally, this romantic interaction has long term consequences, especially for Nicholson’s character. The second half explores his inability to connect with and emotionally abuse Ann-Margret.

Carnal Knowledge really makes you wonder why women love men at all.

Before Jack Nicholson became the Jack Nicholson we know and love today, he specialized in these character studies. Other notable examples are his collaborations with Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens) and The Passenger. He was (is) truly an unusual leading man.

Is Carnal Knowledge a great film? Not particularly. In it’s simplicity, it would probably work better on the stage than on the screen. But it is the highlight of Nicholson’s career from 1969 to 1974, a brief window from when he was still an actor, before he became better known as Jack Nicholson the film star.

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