The Key is a beautiful, artistic, erotic, outside-the-box movie from filmmaker Jefery Levi. Based on the 1955 novel by Nobel Laureate Junichiro Tanizaki, The Key is a visually stunning and erotic story of a couple finding themselves at a sexual crossroads. Twenty-one years into their marriage, Jack (David Arquette) is a passionate artist, who worships his wife Ida as his sexual prize, unwilling to ever give her up. Ida (Bai Ling), on the other hand, insists that she married the wrong man and cannot decide whether she despises Jack or blames herself for the loveless marriage.
The story is told through the eyes of both Jack and Ida as their private journal entries serve as narration for The Key. Filmmaker Jefery Levy takes us on an artistic journey that examines of Jack and Ida’s marriage; focusing on themes of sex, a tired marriage, and a lustful affair.
The Key is an experiment in filmmaking by Levy. Rather than present a straightforward story, he uses the narrative of the couple’s journal entries and overlays the narration with artistic imagery of the “facts” and “emotions” of each character. The movie effectively becomes a beautiful cinematic coffee-table book.
No shot in The Key is a traditional shot, you would expect from a normal movie. Images and scenes are painstakingly planned and pieced together with clear thoughtfulness by writer/director Levy. Some shots are overlayed with accents of decaying celluloid while others feature stylized imagery from filmmakers of the past. Levy utilizes an extensive use of bright lights and filters; creates simulated still shots using a film camera and actors standing still. He also created a bullet-time effect during one of the sex scenes by placing Arquette and Ling on a rotating bed, spinning it and shooting multiple frames per second.
The story itself is akin to a Harlequin-style romance. The lead characters describe their sexual experiences with brutal honesty. Jack’s description about the lengths he will take in seducing his wife, can be read as controversial, even disturbing. Then immediately followed with Ida’s emotions about the seduction can take the edge off of the controversy but still leave you wondering if this is right. But maybe uncomfortable is how we’re supposed to feel.
There is an intense amount of visual imagery and surreal moments in this movie. Levi found the right balance of story, imagery, and editing the movie that flows at the perfect pace and will hold the interests of its audience. As with any erotic thriller, there is a healthy amount of nudity, especially Bai Ling, but the nudity comes off as art without ever approaching the line of pornography.
Jefery Levi successfully creates a beautifully artistic interpretation of Junichiro Tanizaki, The Key. Audiences may not be used to this style of art, but this is a film that deserve a chance because it’s unique and outside-the-box.