Sex in American cinema is measured by the fuss over Sharon Stone uncrossing
her bare legs for the camera or scenes of sweating bodies convulsed in simulated
lovemaking. Bliss shatters those barriers in an interesting way.
Far from blissful, Bliss
is a serious drama about the self- destruction and rebuilding of a troubled marriage.
The husband (square-jawed Craig Sheffer, a solid actor whose career has stopped
short of fame) is loving and true. But he is arrogant and self-serving about his love.
The wife (Sheryl Lee, who played Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks) is a
beauty who is debilitated by her paranoia and a profound lack of self-confidence. Thanks
to a childhood trauma that she has repressed, she is sexually active but emotionally
When Lee tells Sheffer, in front of their therapist (Spalding Gray), that she has
never had an orgasm in their lovemaking, the shock serves as the catalyst for the events
Sheffer discovers that his wife has also been involved with a revolutionary sex
therapist (Terence Stamp) who preaches the wisdoms of Tantric sex and Eastern
philosophies. He also demonstrates, in bed, and has sex with Lee.
After an initial confrontation, Sheffer decides to learn from Stamp to help heal
his wife. This may be the most surprising and provocative turn in a case of 'adultery'
that Hollywood has ever seen. For that alone, Bliss is remarkable. The
filmmaker ignores conventional thinking.
As a dramatic film, however, writer-director Lance Young's effort sometimes
stumbles into documentary or pure lecture. Especially in long passages in which Stamp
explains his healing approaches to the skeptical Sheffer, the effect is so preachy that we
drift out of the film's emotional grip and feel as if a book is being read aloud. It is
useful information but not always in a movie.
Nevertheless, the three principle actors -- Stamp in his gentle reverie, Sheffer in
his eagerness, Lee in her despair -- are so convincing, and for so long, that Bliss attains
a higher level that parallels the teachings in the story.
Above all, Bliss addresses crucial social issues involving the treatment of women
by men. Detailing them might ruin some of the surprises, but Bliss emerges as the kind of
film that no one can experience without engaging in deep thought and perhaps open talk.
As a result, even though there are modestly explicit lovemaking scenes, nothing in Bliss
slops over into softcore porn or even mild titillation. We see flesh but the context is so
carefully constructed that we feel only sympathetic responses to the characters' emotional
As in life, Bliss, the movie, is not to be taken lightly.