Directed by Wayne Wang, starring Molly Parker, Peter Sarsgaard and Carla Gugino.
Richard Longman (Sarsgaard) is a socially inept computer engineer whose only interaction with the opposite sex is through his laptop. Richard's total dedication to his PC-cocooned world has made him very rich, and very lonely. By chance, Richard meets Florence, a young woman who supports her wish to be a full-time rock drummer by lap dancing in a seedy strip bar.
Intrigued by and instantly attracted to Florence, Richard asks her to go to Las Vegas with him for a weekend, sweetening the proposition by offering to reimburse her for any loss of earnings. Initially dismissing the proposition out of hand, Florence begins to relent when Richard ups the ante to $10,000. Swayed by the financial temptation, Florence eventually agrees to go. Both, it seems, are fully aware of what the weekend will entail, so Florence sets out some basic ground rules: no kissing, no talking about feelings and no penetration.
Predictably, things don't go exactly according to plan. In Las Vegas, Richard and Florence settle in to a cosy enough daytime routine, enjoying the various things that travelling companions do. By night, however, things are a little different. From 10pm to 2am Florence becomes Flo, the sexually provocative lap dancer who indulges Richard's most secret fantasies. Gradually, things escalate out of control and one by one Florence's rules are broken, bringing both parties to the shattering realisation of the difficulty in separating sex and emotional reality. Molly Parker's portrayal of Florence is easily the highlight here, investing Flo with a measured amount of world-weariness and humanity.
Wang's decision to shoot digitally lends the film a heightened degree of realism, and in an exploration of such dark and disturbing material, it's a technically astute decision. The visuals are suitably grainy (Las Vegas never looked so minimalist!), and the close-ups of the characters provide an unnervingly realistic portrait of obsession, guilt and emotional deformity. Yet for all of this, 'The Center of The World' still retains the dreaded essence of voyeurism dressed as art.
Even allowing for various sexually explicit scenes, the coldness of the film begs one question above all: if it's worth looking at these characters in the first place, why does it have to be in such an indifferent and merciless manner? Is the sex worker to be punished because of her involvement in the trade? Should the computer freak be judged for his social ineptitude?
Wang himself has claimed that he always wanted to make a film about sex. It's just a pity he couldn't make a more interesting and human one.