Carnal Knowledge

7.01 h 38 min197116+
Jack Nicholson stars in this bitter-sweet comedy that follows two college roommates seeking sexual fulfillment. From Academy Award winning director Mike Nichols (The Graduate).
Mike Nichols
Ann-MargretCandice BergenArt Garfunkel
English [CC]
Audio languages

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Supporting actors
Carol KaneRita MorenoJack NicholsonCynthia O'Neal
Mike Nichols
Content advisory
Alcohol usefoul languagenuditysexual contentsmoking
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4.0 out of 5 stars

377 global ratings

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John P. Jones IIIReviewed in the United States on December 4, 2018
5.0 out of 5 stars
“I’d better never be in your slide show…”
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… a stern and haunting admonition, that has reverberated through the decades, for sure.

This movie, when first released in 1971, was banned in Albany, Georgia, for that ever so slippery charge of “obscenity.” Albany has always had a special place in my heart, due to progeny that had lived on either side of W.E.B. du Bois’s “veil.” My favorite quip was that the “city fathers” of Albany got it right, for the wrong reason: ban the movie, since it provided such a disturbing and uncomfortable message, a la, “the ghost of Christmas future.” If you do not change your ways…

In reality, of course, that is the reason it should be seen, and seen again, as I most recently did. Weren’t Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Art Garfunkel and Ann-Margaret so young back then… as was I?

Cringe, and cringe again. Nicholson and Garfunkel are roommates at Amherst, a “sorta,” but not actual Ivy League school. Candice Bergen attends Smith, then, and now, an exclusive college for women at the undergraduate level, draped in Ivy. Garfunkel meets Bergen at one of those ever-so-awkward “college mixers.” And it is off to the races, as it were, with tentative and additionally awkward moments along the way. If the word “cad” is still operative, Nicholson plays the character, in spades, and unbeknownst to his trusting roommate, puts the move on Bergen also. If that is not bad enough, he principally evaluates women based on the upper front part of their anatomy. The fact that Bergen goes along with his duplicity, should place her in the “cad-ess” category. And what should we make of the character-insight when she declares “The Fountainhead” her favorite book?

I thought of Agnes Varda’s “One Sings and the other One Doesn’t.” This movie could also be entitled “One gets Married, the Other Plays the ‘Field.’” Yes, it is Garfunkel who marries Bergen (whom we never see again), and it is cad Nicholson, replete with sexual insecurities who plays the field. They stay friends as the decades pass. In one memorable line, from Garfunkel, that I had to shudder with, a la, “Say it ain’t so, Art”: “Maybe it’s not meant to be enjoyable with women you love.”

Turning to younger women when a man ages: Why do so many men do it? Yet more embarrassing scenes… with proclamations that a 19-year old knows far more than a woman twice her age… Oh, and that final scene, so grimly ritualistic… so needy…so… a lesson from the ghost of Christmas future.

Yeah, isn’t the standard journalist cliché concerning the repetition of past mistakes: “the lessons unlearned”? I did see the movie, though obviously not in Albany, and did take a few lessons to heart. There was no slideshow, for her, or anyone else to be included into. And I’ve never made the “younger woman” mistake, when a wrinkle or two connotes a better and possibly more understanding life… still waiting for the next adventure. For me, a classic movie: 5-stars, plus.
13 people found this helpful
C. C. BlackReviewed in the United States on March 30, 2021
3.0 out of 5 stars
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in 1971 "Carnal Knowledge" was groundbreaking in its frank depiction of sexuality. By the standards of the 2020s it's almost quaint. It was and still is billed as a "comedy-drama," but, even though scripted by Jules Feiffer, I see in it no comedy. The drama is real, at times intense, but is the equivalent of one minor chord sustained on a keyboard, with the foot never leaving the pedal.

The story follows the movie's main protagonists, played by Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel, from their college years in the late 1940s, through young adulthood, into middle age. They never change, never mature. What they were at 20 is what they still are at 40. The women in their lives come and go; for the brief time we meet each of them, they are more interesting than their male partners. One wonders what the women see in these guys. It's hardly terrific sex, since one of them is abusive, seems incapable of tenderness, and confesses to stretches of impotence.

Mike Nichols ("The Graduate") directs the film almost as a stage play: a proliferation of medium shots, long takes, all very static. Even some outbursts by Nicholson's character are filmed with mid-range lenses. Nichols may have striven to stage the movie with as much glacial stasis as its main characters exhibit. If so, he succeeded, but the price for that fidelity is a chilled drone.

The main reason to see this movie is its young actors, on the verge of better things. Within the confines of his character, Nicholson is, as always, fascinating to watch. The trademark tics—the devilish smirk, arched eyebrows, wiseass demeanor—are already on display, but here they are restrained and haven't yet developed into stereotype. Candice Bergen renders an honest, early performance. Garfunkel doesn't register; he seems to lack the depth that would make a superficial character more interesting. The real breakthrough is Ann-Margaret, who until this picture had been cast in mostly mediocre roles in lame movies. Here she demonstrates that she truly knows how to act, tackling a sad part and drawing from it genuine anguish.

On its own terms "Carnal Knowledge" does not hold up. It may be worth a watch if (a) you're a film buff and want to see some young actors poised for stardom or (b) you want to increase your despondency.
7 people found this helpful
Marshall VandruffReviewed in the United States on June 10, 2018
3.0 out of 5 stars
Subjective Opinion Ahead...
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This movie is remarkable, and ss much as I admire the work of Mike Nichols, Sam O'Steen, and Jules Feiffer, I hesitate to recommend it without qualifications.
The writing is honest to the point of discomfort. The acting is credible and compelling. The cinematic telling is as cinematic as one could hope for (great scenes, staging, sounds, and shots), but it is a portrait of relational dysfunctions that left me feeling sick for two or three days after.
If I were to recommend Carnal Knowledge, it would be the way I recommend Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Raging Bull, or Blue Jasmine. They are all extraordinary movies, but you may want to prepare for something other than a feel-good experience.
17 people found this helpful
Timothy Tynan Amazon CustomerReviewed in the United States on March 17, 2021
5.0 out of 5 stars
Still Splendid
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Time has done no harm to this early work by Mike Nichols. It remains his best, fulfilling all the ambitions he brought to moving-making during his brief stay among the maverick directors of “New Hollywood, “ an exhilarating period for movies that began in 1967 with "Bonnie and Clyde" and Nichols’ own "The Graduate," and ended ten years later. "Carnal Knowledge" is one of the seminal works from that period – deeply cynical, slightly cerebral, and openly critical of much of what America valued during the Vietnam War. Nichols will make more conventional films after this one. But there’s nothing conventional here. Not in story-line, not in the directing, and certainly not in its challenge to the audience. After multiple viewings since I first saw it over fifty years ago,"Carnal Knowledge" remains a provocative experience -- even more so now that movies are so easy on us.

It is also a significant entry into Jack Nicholson’s remarkable run as an actor, beginning with "Easy Rider" (1969) and concluding with "Chinatown" (1974), when his commitment to his characters was free of the audience-pandering that followed the rest of his career. He is simply masterful here, playing a thoroughly irredeemable figure too shallow to see his prodigious selfishness, and all of its ravaging effects, as the source of the depression he’s lamely trying to out run. There is pathos in this contest, and Nicholson’s face and voice in the last enigmatic moments of the film reveal it as a contest his character clearly lost.
5 people found this helpful
Ryan DReviewed in the United States on May 8, 2021
4.0 out of 5 stars
"That was a mistake"
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Saw this on TV maybe 20 years ago and rewatched it last night. This is Mad Men on steroids. But the message is delivered without a single teaspoon of sugar.

I really think Nicholson's Jonathan is one of the great creeps in movie history. On my second watch, it occurred to me he's not just an angry misogynist, he's practically a sociopath in his narcissistic scheming. He basically ruins the life of everyone around him. Not just the women, but also his best friend. As much as anything this is the story of a toxic friend you can't or won't get rid of. In many ways, it's more about Sandy than Jonathan. Jonathan pretty much is who he is from start to finish, it's Sandy who goes from being an innocent and shy kid to a slightly sleazy Jonathan wannabe.

But take the Susan Situation--which really hangs over the whole story even if it's only about 1/3 of the movie. Do we believe Jonathan decides to try to steal her from his best friend after he thinks she might put out? Or was this his plan all along? He figures a a high class Smith girl would never go out with a more rough, blue collar kid like him. But if he can introduce himself as sweet Sandy's best friend.......that might be a different story. Jonathan is manipulating these chess pieces right from the start. Sandy was just the bait he used to get in her pants.

And does this effectively ruin Sandy and Susan's marriage? Jonathan's shadow hangs over them. Maybe Susan' guilt over the secret about her and Jonathan, maybe Sandy's mistaken notion that he has to emulate Jonathan. We sense the marriage is unhappy but did it have to be so? If Jonathan had kept it in his pants, maybe they live happily ever after.

And of course that isn't enough for Jonathan. He has to rub salt in the wound. The slide show scene.... I had to skip back to make sure that quick shot of the girl he "put in by mistake" was Susan. Do we actually believe he put it in by mistake? He doesn't want to flat out tell Sandy he scored with his future wife behind his back, but he also wants him to know. Jonathan is about dominating people--women and men.

And maybe Sandy subconsciously knew all along. He's not a complete idiot. Does he really think she's named Myrtle? No red flag when Jonathan wants to avoid letting him meet her? And "Hey don't tell her I told you I got laid"? That wasn't a DEAD giveaway? Sandy probably knows but chooses to pretend he doesn't. He succumb to the "bros before hos" mantra and they maintain their friendship when they shouldn't. This is about two lifelong friends--who really aren't friends at all.
3 people found this helpful
MichaelReviewed in the United States on December 4, 2020
5.0 out of 5 stars
Carnal Knowledge
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What a well-done film. Still highly watchable after 50 years. Interesting to see all these actors at an early stage in their careers. And the film's insights into the problems that certain men seem to have with women are still germane. The title is ironic because the "knowledge" that the two male protagonists have of women is in fact very limited. They are precocious as undergrads and profess to be very knowing, but are in fact intimidated by women and afraid to relate to them as full human beings. Especially true of Nicholson's character, but also true of Garfunkel's character, though he seems to be less extreme in his insecurity. An experimental film in some ways, because it doesn't have a traditional plot. More of a character study, with big jumps in chronology.
4 people found this helpful
Khristine JacksonReviewed in the United States on March 30, 2021
4.0 out of 5 stars
Naughty boys and Desperate gals ... !
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It was about 22 or 24 years ago.. that I saw this on T.#.M channel. Except the "raw" scenes were edited out. Jack was a sexy man in his prime and Art Garfunkle can you imagine a world renowned singer playing a college student? Let's remember NOT all singer's can act and not all Actor's can sing !? Regardless of generation .. this is how most men think about females ( in regard's to S^X). It's always the ... ... ... Chase .. then hopefully she will disrobes.. then there's the ...Cookie ! Ann-Margaret the same beauty who danced, sang and won our hearts and even (Elvis Presley's) ... exposing her "rear end" ! Wasn't expecting that ..and boy were some of the scenes ... Explicit for those "Baby boomer's" .. of that era in film. Everyone always talks about Marlon Brando's " The Last Tango in Paris" ... as the hilt of "S*xual Exploration" in the 1970's. Candice Bergen was a beauty back in the day ... she starred in many films ..most audiences remember her., from the television show "Murphy Brown". Jacks behavior in this movie may pattern his real life with women. He has had many lovers since ending his divorce with ex-wife Sandra Knight in 1968. He has six children ...not bad for one of the most beloved and decorated actor's of his generation. He won 3 Academy awards lead actor and supporting actor roles. He has also won 6 Golden globes and a Kennedy Center Honor ..Speaking of Marlon Brando.. Jack purchased the residence after Marlon died. In the end should I recommend this feature to a younger demographic... Yes and no..! This is nothing new to them.. Because in the time of Google this isn't shocking anymore.. (the music that most recording artists and director's of movies create makes this ..appear .."luke warm").. . Now if you are interested in a ground breaking movie .. that touched on every scantly clad topic.. before it went main stream..? Then ..give it a try.
joel wingReviewed in the United States on July 8, 2021
4.0 out of 5 stars
1 man ends up bitter the other free due to the relationships in their lives
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This film was a result of the sexual revolution that started in the 1960s and the end of the Production Code in 1968 that had enforced a moral code on Hollywood. It’s about what Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel think about sex and how that has shaped relationships throughout their lives. It goes through three stages, when they’re in college and having their first sexual encounters. to when they’re in their twenties and contemplating marriage to middle age. Nicholson dominates the storyline. He’s more interesting than Garfunkel who plays a more innocent character. Then again Nicholson is a narcissist which shapes his views about women. One finds one perfect woman but it doesn’t work out and he’s bitter the rest of his life. He becomes trapped by his failed expectations. The other is in one long term relationship after another and is much more content. He ends up being freer in life. The movie shows how their entire lives have been shaped by what they wanted and expected from sex with women. The absence of the Code is apparent throughout the film. Nicholson and Garfunkel talk about sex all the time and they did about as much as they could at the time in the sex scenes.
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