Sunday, September 1, 2013

Going Under

Directed by Eric Werthman 

Starring Roger Rees & Geno Lechner 

Release: 2004 

Length: 98 minutes

"Going Under" marked the feature directorial debut of Eric Werthman, a 65-year-old practicing psychotherapist. This is most interesting because the main character in “Going Under” is a psychotherapist. Its first public showing was in 2004 at the São Paulo Film Festival. It debuted theatrically in 2006 in New York City, and was released on DVD in 2007 through the independent company Blue Underground. 

The film reveals the influence of director/co-writer Werthman's profession because it adopts a highly clinical and thoughtful tone. However, I found myself wishing for much more eroticism. After all, this is a movie about a personal relationship between a Dominatrix and one of her clients. How can that be dull? Well, the writing in this movie might have been better suited for a platonic relationship between a shy Priest and a rigid Nun.  

The plot goes like this: Peter, a psychotherapist, and Suzanne, a professional Dominatrix who goes by the name Mistress Diana, have been meeting once a week for over two years, in the privacy of a dungeon room at a New York House of Domination.

During the opening credits, images are shown of frescoes from a villa in Pompeii called the Villa of the Mysteries. Of particular relevance to the film is a fresco depicting an Angel with a whip. From there we see Suzanne in a dungeon setting with her client, Peter. She encourages him to allow her to pierce his penis. He hesitates but submits. After the first needle, Suzanne asks him if she can do another one. He agrees and painfully endures as Suzanne confesses how much she enjoys piercing a man’s genitals.  

After they are done the session, Suzanne informs Peter that she is quitting at the end of the month, and gives in to Peter's request to see her on the outside. Their agreement causes Peter to be distracted at home with his wife, Pat (Kit Flanagan), and at his work as a psychotherapist. Pat confronts him and, although she already knows and accepts Peter's visits to see professional Mistresses, she is concerned to hear of Peter's attachment to Suzanne. 

Upon meeting Peter on the outside for the first time, Suzanne is unsure if she has made the right move in deciding to see him, but her curiosity overpowers her reluctance and they continue talking. Later, it becomes apparent that Suzanne is just as preoccupied by their relationship as Peter, when she is shown in bed with her girlfriend, Miko (Miho Nikaido), who notices Suzanne's distraction and confronts her about it. 

Through a series of flashbacks, we see how Peter and Suzanne met. Calling himself "Robert", Peter enters into the commercial House of Domination and fills out a questionnaire where he lists his D&S interests. Next, he looks through a book which contains the pictures of the various Mistresses that work at the Dungeon. Peter chooses Mistress Diana. Peter is next shown naked while he waits to meet his Mistress. Suzanne enters and the chemistry between them is immediately established. At the end of their initial session, they share their real names with each other.  

In the present time, Suzanne's relationship with Miko is faltering. Peter is struggling to write a psychiatric paper, remembering his childhood of coping with a severe learning disability and Attention Deficit Disorder. Peter and Suzanne continue exploring their S&M relationship in flashbacks, with Peter receiving clothespins on his skin and performing leg worship on Suzanne but being denied his request to orally pleasure her through her rebuke that it would be unethical. Peter also tells Suzanne that one of his hard limits is that he is squeamish when it comes to being pierced. The first scene in the movie tells us that she was able to expand his boundaries and that he trusted her enough to allow her to breakdown even his hard limits.

Outside the dungeon, Peter clings to her, but also tries to analyze her at the same time. Suzanne confides to Peter that the reason she retired from being a Dominatrix was because she was having trouble controlling her contempt and hatred toward some of her male clients. Suzanne admits that she found herself really wanting to hurt this one man in particular and it scared her.  

In a meeting at a diner, Suzanne tells Peter about a time in her teens when she tried to make friends with a boy named Tim in a new community by performing oral sex on him. Suzanne says she felt proud of herself until everyone at her new school found out about it. Peter suggests that if the memory did not still hurt, she would not have brought it up. She corrects Peter by reminding him that she already has a therapist and that she doesn’t need him analyzing her.  

Peter tells Suzanne about his struggles in school with a learning disability and how it still affects him. Suzanne again becomes uncomfortable with Peter's intimacy with her. After Suzanne puts off meeting with Peter on the outside again, he goes to an S&M club, where he watches various public scenes between Doms and subs.

He approaches a woman, Mistress Terry, whom he had watched flog a man. She orders him to buy her a bottle of water. She asks him if he wants to be dominated, which he agrees, so she binds him naked and proceeds to flog him while an audience gathers to watch. Peter is unable to get in the mood and stops her by using his safe word shortly after she begins flogging him. Mistress Terry seems interested in Peter, even asking him if he is married. Before he leaves the club, she informs him that she frequents the club most weekends, should he ever want to session with her again.

Meanwhile, Suzanne is contacted by her former employer, Juno (Phyllis Somerville), the woman who runs the House of Domination. Juno tells her that an old client is willing to pay her a healthy sum of money if she were to travel to Philadelphia to dominate him. At first she refuses the offer, but when her female roommate breaks up with her and moves out, her need for the money makes her reconsider the offer.  

She goes to Philadelphia for the one-time session with the old client, Walter. Here we see a scene that is a perfect example of a man who wants to be dominated, but tries to control the session. Suzanne shows up wearing a sexy black leather outfit but Walter immediately tells her that he doesn’t like black and that he is deeply disappointed that she is not wearing a red outfit. As the session begins, he corrects her about the tone of her voice. She is obviously not doing an adequate job of conforming to Walter’s fantasy and Suzanne becomes agitated. She finally grows tired of his complaining so she gags him and proceeds to whip him with fury and disdain.  

Afterward, Walter pays her for the session but not before he reminds her about what he didn’t like about the session. However, Walter hesitates and thanks her, perhaps revealing that he enjoyed being put him in his place. Once Walter is out of her sight, Suzanne breaks down and cries. 

When she returns to New York City, she gets news that her mother, Gretchen (Jenny Sterlin) has cancer. She calls Peter to drive her to her mother's house. Suzanne and her mother are shown to have a tense relationship, causing her to lean on Peter after the visit.


Peter drives Suzanne back to her apartment and they go inside. Peter marvels at Suzanne’s art, especially the plates from books that Peter has gifted her as inspiration.  
They begin passionately kissing for the first time. Suzanne says that she will never be comfortable with how they met, and although she seems to want more, she stops Peter before he penetrates her. She leaves the room only to return and begins to allow Peter to touch her sexually, however she stops him again and she collapses in his arms, sinking to the floor. Peter sits with her for a while and returns home.  
Days later, they meet again outdoors. Suzanne says she cannot allow herself to want Peter. He says he understands how she feels but does not want to lose her. Nonetheless, Suzanne ends the relationship. 
We see Peter and his wife Pat sitting lakeside, watching their college-aged daughter in the lake. Peter comments on how secretive their daughter has become about her life.  Pat reminds him that their daughter is just like him. Peter apologizes to Pat for the things he has done to hurt her through his relationship with Suzanne.  
Finally, a year has passed and Peter backslides yet again. He has seen an ad in a Femdom publication that Suzanne is once again working as a Dominatrix. In a voice-over telephone conversation, Suzanne explains to Peter that she is only working one day per week to make extra money. Peter asks if he can see her again. Suzanne says it will not be any different than it was a year ago and denies his request.  End of movie. 
Werthman gets kudos for making his characters multi-faceted and transparent at the same time. These are intelligent and complex characters. However, these are also very dull people, or so the dialogue makes them seem that way. Peter is a sad and depressed character. So is Suzanne, for that matter. There is no humor in this film. The characters rarely smile or laugh. The sex is non-existent. The S&M scenes in the dungeon are neither erotic nor interesting.  
Contrast Suzanne with Mistress Midori. Readers of “Predominant” may recall that I reviewed her movie, "Portrait of a Dominatrix" back in May 2005. In that issue of Predominant I wrote the following about Midori;
"I particularly enjoyed the way she spoke to her slaves. She bargains with them, reasons with them and gets them to agree to whatever whim pleases her. The smile that appears on her face as she whips her slaves is inspiring. She goes from playful and aloof to serious and demanding in a split second." 
In other words, Midori loves what she does. If you are a submissive male, I doubt if you would want to session with Suzanne. And if you are a dominant woman, I don’t think Peter would be your dream submissive. Peter is a needy person and perhaps Suzanne likes him because he is different than her other clients. Maybe she sees a future with him, a successful man who could give her a new life. But she knows he is married and there is no future with him. Therefore, we are left with two needy people trying to be friends, but neither can meet the other’s needs.  
Toward the end of the movie we see Suzanne driving in her car and we hear her voice-over talking about how she has this need to break a man down. We hear Peter talking about his need to be broken down. You would think two such people would be compatible and a perfect match. That was obviously the attraction and the chemistry they enjoyed in the Dungeon. Sadly, it could not translate to the outside world. And sadly, this film does not reveal the potential benefits of a loving Femdom relationship. Suzanne and Peter are running from what they really are and what they really need, instead of embracing it. Thus they are left sad and depressed.  
On the DVD extras, there is a short documentary about the annual Black and Blue Ball held in New York City. It runs about six minutes but it gives you a glimpse of what these kind of fetish events are like. If you’ve never been to an event like this, you will probably be shocked. Better you see it on a DVD prior to going in person. Just keep in mind that not everyone who attends these events are as flamboyant or over the top as what they show in this short feature. 
I bought my copy of this DVD on Amazon. This film does have some artistic merit but don't let the subject matter entice you. It's neither a sexy nor a romantic movie.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars