Mired more in disappointment than in desire, Steven Soderbergh's reportedly final film is also thick with intense emotion.
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA opens with explosions of hope. Summer and Moroder throb as a disco styled HBO logo brights the screen. Action commences with an expectation of pleasure: Bob (Scott Bakula) and Scott (Matt Damon) exchange gazes across a (gay) bar, Summer and Moroder still feeling love in the background. Bob approaches and first names are shared; the synth pop phantasm faded, the quick scene already over, intensity of expectations deflated.
The promise of passion and adoration is renewed when Bob introduces Scott to his newest fan, Liberace (Michael Douglas.)
As Scott and Lee become enmeshed, the story is revealed in a series of physical and emotional changes unleashed in Scott. He pursues plastic surgery, he stops actively working in his field, he develops a drug problem and he is emotionally all over the fucking map.
Lee, on the other hand, is unchanged gloss. We learn little about him besides a few calmly revealed anecdotes. His mother (Debbie Reynolds) is present yet unknowable under a thick Polish accent and a preoccupation with being given money.
Scott and Lee remain together while Lee is protected and Scott descends into a loss of identity.
Watching their relationship on film is like watching a bird fly into a mirror. Time and time again the bird thinks it is looking at a possible mate, unable to understand there is only a glass that can not be entered.
The love of Liberace is studied less for homosexuality than as a love of co dependency.
These lacks are measures of unmet expectations; of images that lie, and surfaces that can't be permeated.
Scott seeks in Lee a promise of love, personal beauty and protection, and he is disappointed on all fronts.
Perhaps Soderbergh is evoking, by way of heightened emotions and sexy disco soap opera, the failures he sees reflected back in his own creations.