DIRECTED BY: Robert Parigi
FEATURING: Desmond Harrington, Melissa Sagemiller, Udo Kier, Rip Torn
PLOT: In a deviant twist on the Pygmalion myth, a man’s infatuation for a life-like sex doll
evolves into a sinister love triangle when he becomes involved with a coworker.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Love Object, like Lars And The Real Girl which came after, is about a lonely introvert who buys a realistic sex doll for companionship. Like Ken in Love Object, Lars comes to yearn for a coworker, but has trouble making a connection. Lars and the Real Girl is a cute movie about the human spirit, and the socialization and evolution of a lonely man. With the help of his doll and coworker, Lars comes out of his shell, grows and triumphs. In this way, Lars And The Real Girl, while employing a weird vehicle to make its point (the love doll) is more or less a mainstream comedy-drama, no more odd than a Cyrano de Bergerac theme such as Roxanne (1987).
Love Object, however takes a twisted path. The weird idea of needing the love doll is used to define the protagonist’s nature, but it gets stranger from there. Ken’s obsession with the doll is not a positive step in the evolution of his character. It leads him down a dark perverse path toward madness, violence and ruin. The plot is sick and creepy, the content perverse, and it is skillfully handled, making Love Object a good candidate for the designation of being truly weird.
COMMENTS: It’s tempting to insert some sophomoric humor into this recommendation, but the jokes would be all too predictable. Despite delivering many elements of black comedy, the overall tone of this surprisingly violent sardonic yarn is serious. Love Object grimly depicts a bizarre theme with good pacing and artfully blended visual continuity.
Kenneth Winslow is the kind of cold, compulsive dullard who alphabetizes his jock straps. Taking more interest in the technical world than the human one, Ken writes instruction manuals for electronics —you know, the ones nobody reads.
A joker at work shows Ken a photo of an alluring girl named Nikki, and he is at once smitten. Nikki is a life-like sex doll, so realistic that Ken can’t detect the substitution. No devil with the ladies, a light bulb goes off in Ken’s head, maybe both of them. Undeterred that Nikki isn’t a real girl, Ken visits the doll manufacturer’s website and orders a Nikki model.
Back at work, a sweet, gorgeous assistant is assigned to help Ken with a demanding project. She really likes Ken. Like the charmer he is he gives her the cold shoulder. Ken likes to work alone. There is also a sense that love-shy Ken is actually attracted to Lisa, but too awkward and intimidated to interact with her.
Nikki soon arrives at Ken’s condo, packed in an awkward, coffin-like, crate. Overcome with licentious desire, Ken unpacks his surrogate girlfriend and lunges at her in a frenzy of misplaced, abject lust.
Oddly, Ken finds that humping a lump of silicone and plastic isn’t that fulfilling. Is something missing here? Ken decides to personify the doll, shopping for her and dressing her in nice executive clothes, makeup, doing her hair. Presto! The suave and romantic Ken falls in love.
Ken notices an uncanny resemblance between the doll and his unwanted assistant, Lisa. He gets another flash of insight. Ken studies Lisa, and applies her trappings to Nikki, making Nikki resemble her. Eureka! As Ken’s “relationship” with Nikki develops however, so does his real relationship with Lisa. He has been warming up to Lisa in spite of himself. Not satisfied with one woman, Ken keeps Nikki and starts to identify Lisa with Nikki and vice versa.
The more contact Ken has with Lisa, the more he likes her and wants to connect with her, but he doesn’t know how. Too timid to communicate with Lisa on an intimate level, Ken fashions Nikki into a substitute for intimacy with Lisa. Conversely, Lisa becomes the animated embodiment of the personality that the inanimate Nikki can’t project. Ken’s jumbled emotions for doll and coworker become transposed and confused as he assigns one persona to the other and vice versa.
During this time, Lisa falls for Ken and they become intimate. Losing his capacity for separating fantasy from reality, Ken takes Lisa shopping for the same clothes he purchased for Nikki. Their relationship takes off. Nikki was good practice.
Meanwhile, Nikki has developed a life of her own, and she’s none too happy about Ken’s burgeoning love for his coworker. When Ken comes home late with lipstick on his collar, Nikki abusively dominates him in a fit of bondage, discipline and sadomasochism.
As tensions mount at home and work, the landlord becomes too curious. Nikki becomes unmanageable, and Ken finds his relationship with Lisa jeopardized. He must take decisive action. The charade cannot continue! Three is a crowd and somebody is going to have to go. But who?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…uncomfortably totters from psychological suspense to black comedy to pull-out-the-stops horror, never quite lives up to its bizarre premise, and despite its audacious subject matter, it will even have difficulty attaining future cult status.”–Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)
Love Object trailer