Nicole Kidman by David Thomson

Alfred A. Knopf   2006     270 pp.

Copyright © Steven E. Alford


David Thomson is a distinguished, if idiosyncratic, film critic and historian, with books such as The New Biographical Dictionary of Film and The Whole Equation to his credit.  In Nicole Kidman, the sixtyish, married Thomson claims that he has written it “to honor desire,” and it’s true, but not in the manner you might think.  This book pioneers the Too Much Information School of Film Criticism, pulling off the feat of being simultaneously pompous and creepy, like some visiting relative in a Hitchcock film. 

Already by page 4 I was a little skittish, when he shared with the reading public his dream of Nicole Kidman starring in a remake of the Catherine Deneuve vehicle, Belle de Jour (in which the protagonist plays a daytime prostitute): “I have dreamed this film with such intensity that is matters to me more than many films I actually have to see.”

However, I was officially creeped out by page 7 (with 263 pages to go) when he shared with us through the security of the second person subjunctive this tidbit about Nicole, “you may know the curve of her bottom as well as you know your child’s brow.”  Professional that I am, I kept reading, not about Nicole Kidman (who appears sporadically in the book), but “Nicole Kidman,” Thomson’s fantasy sexual object. 

Thomson notes in the occasional paragraph the facts of Nicole’s life and career, proceeding film by film, offering speculation about former husband Tom Cruise, Tom’s alleged gayness, the two kids, the divorce, the good movies and the bad.  He offers little evidence for his speculations, telling us of Nicole’s driving ambition, but never supporting his claim with anything other than second hand comments. 

He’s in love with the grand and patronizing generalization, such as this one about the Australians’ love of being patronized: “Australians thrive on being patronized, even if that experience sometimes accounts for their rude vigor.”  What?  Or “are islands ever less than interesting and dramatic?”  Well, yes, I could name a few. 

He’s also a fan of the inappropriate analogy, such as between choosing a script and being a golfer, “the golfer on the eleventh green at Augusta may pause over his putt with the piercing realization that he is actually a baseball player.” 

I will omit his nascent bondage and discipline fantasy with Nicole on page 9.  However, I will share with you his comments on Nicole and Suzanne, the latter her character in To Die For: “Of course, the two personae fit together as tidily and as prettily as … well, as Kidman’s breasts in the violet-colored underwear she sports in one scene.”  Or, how about one of his afternoon dreams, where he is in a room where “the Gestapo officer and the elderly Chinaman … were having their way with Nicole.”  Can you say “restraining order?”

Kidman is not the only recipient of Thomson’s fantasy treatment, since he is seldom happy with the plots of the films he sees.  Rule Number One of film reviewing and criticism is review the film you see, not the film you want to see.  Thomson lavishly violates this rule (saying that it can be “useful criticism”) with virtually every film he sees, offering rewrites of Malice, To Die For, Eyes Wide Shut, The Others, Cold Mountain, and Birth.  (He refers to the “grotesque errors” Jane Campion makes in The Portrait of a Lady, but never specifies them.)  He also offers Henry James helpful tips on improving The Portrait of a Lady.  James was unavailable for comment.

In watching Nicole in Mrs. Dalloway, he says, “I suppose I was ready, primed, for some heady expression of my feelings for Nicole—and maybe life had so organized itself that she was ready, too.”  I wish Mr. Thomson all the best.