Film

Swept Away (2002)

Todd R. Ramlow

What Swept Away calls love, I would call the usual terror and degradation that keeps battered women in dangerous relationships.


Swept Away

Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Madonna, Adriano Giannini, Bruce Greenwood, Jeanne Triplehorn, Patrizio Rispo
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Sony Screen Gems
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-10-11

We all like to gripe about Madonna as an actress. Her film performances, save for Desperately Seeking Susan, are generally wooden, critically damned, and, unpopular to boot. But you gotta say this for my girl; she's like a dog with an acting bone. And even given her poor acting skills, it appears that our delight in trashing Madge is less about a dedication to the craft than a desire to see her fail. There are certainly equally bad or worse actors whom we are happy to watch in film after film -- Meg Ryan, for one. But Madonna's so resilient, so long in the tooth career-wise, and so damn good at everything else she does, it seems to make us feel better seeing her stumble from time to time.

The good news is that, in her husband Guy Ritchie's so-called "romantic comedy," Swept Away, a remake of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 original, Madonna doesn't fall flat on her face. She doesn't even really stumble, only makes a misstep here and there. It is her best acting to date. Unfortunately, her hard work is essentially wasted in the film, which in the end is hardly "romantic," not a "comedy," and downright nasty to women.

Madonna plays Amber Leighton, a jet-setting, New York City-based, mega-rich mega-bitch. Amber and her husband Anthony (Bruce Greenwood), along with a few of their cronies, have popped over to Greece for a leisurely cruise to Italy. As she establishes immediately upon seeing the sprawling yacht on which they will vacation, nothing is ever good enough for Amber. She snaps at Anthony that she didn't fly to "wherever the fuck we are" to spend her time on a decrepit old boat with a "fucking chimney." Amber is a shrew, and spends all her time and energy making the life of everyone around her miserable.

Most of her vitriol, however, is reserved for the crew of the yacht, and especially for the fisherman turned servant for the trip, Guiseppe (Adriano Giannini, son of Giancarlo Giannini, who played the same role in Wertmuller's version). She calls him "Peepee" (instead of his nickname Pepe) or Nature Boy, and tells him, variously, that he's an "idiot," an "imbecile," and a "hairy black monkey." Ouch, she's so callous, so cruel and shallow.

Yet, between idlers and crew, and pointedly between Amber and Guiseppe, lies the film's commentary regarding class relations. While pedaling on her stationary bike on deck, Amber waxes on about the superiority of capitalism, in which, she lectures, "the owner, whoever he or she may be, may set the price of her good at whatever level she chooses, regardless of any moral or ethical concerns." It's an old critique of greed and corruption, but one made fresh in light of all the CEO skullduggery and CFO book-cooking currently coming out of corporate America.

To lay on the critique a little thicker, Todd (Michael Beattie), one of Anthony's rich buddies, goes on and on about the many advantages of chemicals, most directly pesticides and fertilizers, then asks Guiseppe how chemicals have improved his life. Pepe observes that chemicals poison the environment, and sacrifice sustainability for ease. Throughout this first section, Swept Away muses on avarice, the privileges of wealth, and class tensions.

But we all know what's coming. It gives nothing away to say that, because of all her bitchery and torment of Guiseppe, Amber must learn the error of her ways by falling desperately in love with the poor fisherman. Would someone please put this hackneyed storyline out to pasture? Fucking the help, much less falling in love with him and thus effecting one's own social and moral transformation is so passé. And it does nothing to address entrenched class exploitation and oppression, but merely tries to wish it away by asserting that rich people aren't so bad, and we all can just get along.

Amber's transformation begins when she and Pepe wash up on a deserted island. Realizing she must now rely on him, that their roles have reversed, Pepe decides it's payback time, and in spades. He torments and abuses Amber to an extent that far exceeds her own abuse of him on board. Pepe demands Amber call him "Master," that she scrub his clothes, prepare the food he has caught, and even dance for his entertainment. When she talks back, he hits her or kicks her to the ground. When she finally becomes so frustrated by his physical and verbal assaults that she stands up to him, Pepe chases her down the beach, threatens to (and almost does) rape her, and leaves her humiliated and bare-assed, crying in the sand.

After this, Amber realizes she loves Pepe, goes groveling back and literally kisses his feet in profession of her love. What Swept Away calls love, I would call the usual terror and degradation that keeps battered women in dangerous relationships.

Not to psychoanalyze the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie, but it is somewhat spooky that since they've been together, Madonna has increasingly participated in eroticized spectacles of violence. She did it in her "Drowned World" tour; in The Star, the short Ritchie produced for bmw.com and in which Madonna starred; in Ritchie's video for "What it feels like for a girl"; and now here in Swept Away. Gone are the days of her sexual excess and challenges to conventional morality. In recent interviews, both Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie have been talking about how they decided to tone down the lustful and prurient aspects of Wertmuller's film in favor of a focus on personal conversion and "love."

The October 2002 Vanity Fair, for instance, features Madonna as cover girl and interviews with both Mr. and Mrs. inside. On the relative chastity of Swept Away, Mr. says: "I don't want to see my missus naked all over the place. Plus, I thought that the film was about passion rather than tits and bush everywhere." His version features less passion than violence against a woman. It's strange that while he doesn't want viewers ogling his wife's ta-tas, Ritchie is perfectly happy to let us watch her get smacked around for about an hour.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.

Music

Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum
Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Music

Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.

Music

Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.