Provocative, risky, and darkly intriguing, Paul Verhoeven's Elle is a story of power, fragility, and control detailing the life of Michele, a successful businesswoman, who brings her cold and calculating demeanor to everything she inhabits. Whether it be her video game company or her personal life, Elle is ruthless in her convictions, often alienating friends and family, including her own mother and son, due to her assured perspective on everything around her. Sexually assaulted in her home by an unknown assailant in the opening scene of the film, Elle is not your typical rape/revenge thriller, as Paul Verhoeven has crafted a film willing to take taboo risks, as it attempts to deconstruct the fine line which exists in the psyche of Elle between pain and pleasure, sex, violence, and control. A slowly unraveling character study of a woman whose inner turmoil and confusion stems from a deeply troubling past, Elle is a film about loneliness, insecurity, and control, or lack-there-of, with Isabelle Huppert's performance bringing a quiet fragility to this character who essentially routinely wishes to pretend that she still has complete control over her emotions and those important to her in her life. Elle is a headstrong character who is trying to her best to be someone she is not, overreaching in her desire to be tough and strong due a sorted past. She is a character still plagued by the heinous acts of her father, a serial killer, with Verehoven's film slowly revealing a woman whose quiet sense of loneliness rings louder and more true than any of Elle's power-posturing throughout the film. The cat and mouse game which ensues between Elle and her assaulter is both curious and thrilling to this character who is so used to being in control, as the lines between sex and violence, pain and pleasure become further blurred in the psyche of Elle, a character who struggles to admit her own weaknesses and imperfections. Elle's need for power and control over those around her, whether it be through sex, finances, or emotions, is shattered by this intruder in the opening scene of the film, with sexual assault being such a heinous act of obtrusive power that it slowly and methodically sets Elle on a path of reflection, unable to comprehend at first that she herself has been an obtrusive force to those around her, including her own son and coworkers, with the assault being a chilling reminder that she does not have a monopoly on control and power, something she convinced herself about in an effort to overcome the pain associated with her father's heinous acts of violence on those around him. A singular character study that is as provocative, bizarre, and intriguing as one would expect from Paul Verhoeven, Elle deconstructs humankind's desire for control and need for power, revealing how both are merely a mirage we manifest in our psyches in an effort to be more assured in our own convictions.
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