While the male protagonist of the film portrayed by John Laughlin lies to himself about the fact that his marriage is a sham and that his fiercely frigid wife is sexually repulsed by him, the female protagonist has created an entire phony prostitute persona that allows herself to feel strong and in control when, in reality, she is a terribly lonely emotional cripple that is afraid of devotion, intimacy, and love, hence her need to live a double life as the city's most brazenly sensually eccentric pussy-peddler. Luckily, in Russell’s film, opposites attract and the young married businessman and bourgeois prostitute are able to shed their masks and embrace reality after falling in love with one another. Of course, the film would not be complete without Mr. Perkins' performance as psychotic pervert reverend that partly acts as the chic hooker's unlikely savior. A piece of meticulously stylized high-camp trash-with-class with the sort of strange hermetic melodrama that you would expect from a classic 1960s George Kuchar flick like Hold Me While I'm Naked (1966) or Eclipse Of The Sun Virgin (1967), including lavishly stylized silhouette sex scenes, Crimes of Passion is a rare cinematic work that manages to communicate an important message without succumbing to cheap sentimentality or heavy-handed art fag pretentiousness. In fact, as a result of using exaggerated fetishistic imagery and kinky quasi-pornographic scenarios, Russell ultimately tricks the viewer into devouring what is, thematically speaking, a relatively wholesome film that says more about love than any Woody Allen or Wes Anderson film could.
Despite the fact that he is a handsome man with an athletic build and a great provider for his family, Bobby’s preternaturally prudish wife Amy (Annie Potts)—an oftentimes cunty stay-at-home-mom that seems more offended by the mere idea of sex than the average Catholic priest—refuses to have sexual contact of any kind with her fairly loving hubby. Needless to say, when Bobby comes into contact with a sophisticated fashion designer named Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner) that moonlights as fetish oriented streetwalker with the pseudonym ‘China Blue,’ he cannot help but cheat on his wife and reconsider his marriage altogether. When the viewer first sees China Blue, she is doing a sort of bad performance art routine where she pretends to give an acceptance speech for “Miss Liberty 1984” while some random sleaze-bag chows down on her meat-curtain. As an emotionally damaged divorcee and workaholic that is absolutely afraid of intimacy and commitment, Joanna uses her ‘China Blue’ routine to give herself a false sense of control and sexual power, but it is obvious that she is morbidly lonely and secretly longs for something more than just cheap carnal thrills. Needless to say, Bobby eventually shatters Joanna’s delusions of sexual grandeur when he pays for her services and she cums with extra creamy glee. After all, as a certain character stated in David Mamet’s Homicide in regard to the wise worlds of an old whore, “When you start cumin’ with the customers, it’s time to quit.” While virtually all of her customers act like white knights after fucking her by acting as if they want to save her, only Bobby is actually serious about it, though the female protagonist does have unexpected help from an uniquely unholy holy man.
When Bobby first goes to see Joanna, he reveals his inordinate sensitivity by warning her “Go slow. I’m just a Boy Scout” and then attempts to ask her who she really is, but she merely replies “It’s not a prom date, sweetie. I’m a hooker, you’re a trick. Why ruin a perfect relationship?” and hands him a Quaalude so that he can “fly” while fucking. To her most pleasant yet perplexing surprise, Joanna really gets into being sensitively banged by Bobby in a variety of positions and cannot believe that she is sharing a seemingly immaculate sex session that involves real visceral feelings and deep intimacy. As demonstrated by the fact that she passionately sucks his toes and massages his entire body with the utmost sensitivity during foreplay, Joanna seems to have a special affection for Bobby before he even demonstrates that he has a talent for pleasuring her puss with his pulsating prick. In what is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable and aesthetically pleasing sex scene in sinema history, Russell highlights the orgasmic majesty of Bobby and Joanna's first sexual encounter via kaleidoscopic silhouettes.
Meanwhile, Bobby becomes increasingly annoyed with his snooty sexless wife Amy, especially after she gets a considerably bitchy attitude at a cookout party where the male protagonist does a totally tasteless yet nonetheless humorous “human penis” routine where he acts like an ejaculating cock by spitting tons of milk out of his mouth. In fact, that night, Bobby gets so angry at Amy's insufferable passive-aggressive bullshit that he yells at her until she finally opens up and meekly confesses that she never enjoyed sex with him and would even fake orgasms to make him happy. At this point, Bobby becomes even angrier and yells in an impassioned fashion to his wife, “What do you think I am. Some kind of machine? That I just need a hole to cum in? I mean, what do you think makes me cum? […] I’ll tell you. I thought it was being inside the woman that I love. And giving her as much pleasure as she was giving to me. You know, the two of us, together.” Of course, Joanna makes Bobby cum in exactly that perfect way that he describes to his wife, so naturally he cannot help but proceed to pursue her in real-life as an actual and person instead of mere cheap whore and fantasy, especially after finally accepting the fact that his marriage with Amy is a lost cause.
In the end in a sassy conclusion that, at the very least, rivals the final words of Kubrick's swansong Eyes Wide Shut, the film comes full circle with a moving monologue from Bobby at the sex group therapy session where he states, “I’m here tonight . . . because I wanted to finally start telling the truth. My wife and I, we’ve split up for good. That’s right. Me, the boy scout. I just never had the guts to admit the truth, that Amy and I had just stopped loving each other. There’s nobody to blame. That’s just what happened. Then . . . I met this woman, Joanna. She saved my life. We’re together now. I’m not sure if it’s gonna work out. We don’t have a whole hell of a lot in common other than the fact that . . . we both need help and each other. The thing, you see, that scared me the most during my marriage was just admitting that I was scared, and letting Amy down. Well, I can’t pretend anymore. I was scares shitless to come back here. I told Joanna. And she took me in her arms and she said, ‘It’s OK to be scared.’ I felt . . . stronger. And freer. And more like a man than I’ve ever felt before in my life. Then we fucked our brains out.”
As revealed in the fairly mundane Sandler penned movie Making Love (1982), monogamy is not really a gay virtue, thus making it all the more seemingly inexplicable that Crimes of Passion—a rather pro-monogamy/pro-intimacy film that makes a clear distinction between true sexual intimacy and soulless fucking—was written by a gay man (somewhat strangely, Sander’s most recent effort was writing the negro horror-comedy Knock 'em Dead (2014) directed by David DeCoteau).
In his relatively popular film reference book The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (2004), David Thomson complains, “The overall need to sensationalize artists and to reduce them to comic-book Freud and TV commercial glamour is justified by Russell as a means to making them more popular.” Of course, Thomson makes a valid criticism, which is especially apparent upon watching Altered States and Crimes of Passion since neither of these films, quite unlike much of Russell's earlier films, are plagued by these flaws. Indeed, I would even go so far as to argue that, aside from possibly his magnum opus The Devils (1971), Crimes of Passion is Russell's most immaculately assembled film. I certainly cannot think of another film where the whole ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ motif is actually used in genuinely intriguing fashion and is not used as a pathetic attempt at cheap humanist sentimentalism or Marxist agitprop. As a successful and sophisticated fashion designer that treasures art and is more geared toward love and sexual compatibility than succumbing to the cold female instinct of hypergamy, Kathleen Turner's characters is, quite ironically, the virtual ideal woman, which would explain her sense of isolation; while the male protagonist's sexless wife is the total opposite as a seemingly soulless woman that married solely for material reasons in a film that, somewhat inadvertently, clearly demonstrates why many modern men avoid marriage lest they become cuckolds of divorce court. As to how a beauteous and cultivated woman could turn into a prostitute, Georges Bataille offered a good idea when he wrote, “Not every woman is a potential prostitute, but prostitution is the logical consequence of the feminine attitude. In so far as she is attractive, a woman is a prey to men's desire. Unless she refuses completely because she is determined to remain chaste, the question is at what price and under what circumstances will she yield. But if the conditions are fulfilled she always offers herself as an object. Prostitution proper only brings in a commercial element. By the care she lavishes on her toilet, by the concern she has for her beauty set off by her adornment, a woman regards herself as an object always trying to attract men's attention. Similarly if she strips naked she reveals the object of a man's desire, an individual and particular object to be prized.”