Zandalee (1991): Like Xanadu, But With Way More Sex [Joey’s Review]
ZANDALEE tells the story of another love triangle, in ways reminiscent of the one we saw in MOONSTRUCK. While Nicolas Cage is, once again, the man that breaks up a relationship, the man he replaces isn’t overseas, attending to his mother; rather, the man he replaces is a long-time friend trapped in a job where he’s forced to work far longer hours than he or his wife, the titular Zandalee, would like.
Both Cage, who plays a painter named Johnny Collins, and his friend, a poet-turned-communications-tycoon played by Judge Reinhild (Brad himself from FAST TIMES!), are artists struggling to make it in 1991. Cage gets a job as a cable guy for the company his friend now runs, but neither are happy with their situation; both want to return to a life of art and sex and LIFE.
Enter Zandalee. Married to Reinhold’s character Thierry Martin, she’s beautiful and almost entirely naked for the entire movie. She’s a manifestation of perfection; her beauty is such that it inspires men to create art. She is, for all intents and purposes, a muse, a muse whose muselike talents and abilities are lent in equal measures to Cage and Reinhold.
Watching this movie, it reminded me a lot of XANADU. Both films have similar sounding names and both center on a muse inspiring great art in the world around them. Erika Anderson (Zandalee) is the NC-17 version of Olivia Newton-John, inspiring art with “her peach,” rather than her beauty alone. Though Cage is top billed, it’s Zandalee at the center of this movie (naturally); whomever she’s romantically involved with at the time is the male character we follow.
And it’s that decision of who to align herself with that opens up a new line of questioning and a new avenue of me reading way too far into this movie. While I joke on the podcast that Steve Buscemi (as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him garbageman/parolee/work release person) might be the devil, the point could be made that it’s Cage who is the devil in this movie. (In this scenario, Reinhold is an angel.)
Hear me out on this one. In this theory, Zandalee is literally being torn between good and evil. She begins the film aligned on the side of good; the only real downside in her life is that she’s bored. There’s some saying about how Hell is more fun than Heaven, and I don’t think that I’m thinking of the Billy Joel lyric, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” She’s living an angelic life of peace and harmony until the devil enters her world and changes everything.
As her relationship with Cage goes along, Zandalee returns to church to try to get some guidance and clarity on her life. Firmly in the grasp of the devil, though, she’s unable to get any help from above. Instead, she must continue her life of sin and debauchery because the devil has his fingers in her and he won’t let go.
She’s brought down to his level and experiences a return to passion and excitement in her life. What pairs with passion? Fire, of course — exactly what you’d find in Hell. It’s this journey to Hell that ultimately ruins her life (and ends her life).
Cage is adorned in red clothes (or dark clothes, or black paint) throughout a lot of this movie, and spends a lot of time acting devilish. Reinhold usually dons lighter clothes and is more virtuous and, dare I say, angelic (!!) in this movie. While it may not be a sin, he knows it’s rude to get up from a dinner table when you have guests over, so rather than discovering his wife and Cage having sex in the next room, he’ll adhere to his manners (commandments?!) and stay at the table.
The ultimate moment of sin comes in a church (of course). Zandalee has had enough of Cage; she’s looking for absolution but isn’t heard. Cage shows up — the devil always knows where to find you — and shows his utter lack of respect for the church. “God can hear us more clearly in here?” he taunts, before letting out a long line of expletives. He then whisks Zandalee into the confessional and forces himself upon her in the pinnacle of desecration. What does he say when he’s done? “Thank you, Father,” in the sincerest form of mockery.
Zandalee returns to her husband, but by this point it’s too late. “I can’t give you absolution!” Thierry shouts. Zandalee’s actions have crossed a line, and the doorman for heaven tells her she’s no longer welcome. All hope is lost; evil has won.
What better type of being is there to experience such a tug-of-war between good and evil than a muse — a creature that lives beyond the constraints of this world? None! Zandalee’s beauty may inspire these men, but they in turn inspire her to do acts of goodness or evil. While she may not be the type of ethereal being that Olivia Newton-John is in Xanadu, Zandalee’s muse is one more grounded in reality and the confines of our world. It’s this quality that makes her a more relateable figure, and one whose tragic end means that much more.
How can I watch it? You’ll have to buy the Region 0 DVD for this one. It’s pretty great, though, and super weird and sexy.
What’s up next? Pack your bags — we’re headed to Vegas! Next up is HONEYMOON IN VEGAS.