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Spottieottiedopalicious Reflections on Cinema: Risky Business 

Jonathan Moody



            “Capitalism is pimps and hoes.”

                 —Ras Kass, “Anything Goes”


It can be agreed upon that Risky Business catapulted Tom Cruise to stardom, but it’s Rebecca De Mornay’s intricate performance that gives Paul Brickman’s 1983 film its timeless edge.

For such a Hollywood film, De Mornay, who plays Lana (a call girl and Cruise’s love interest), maneuvers back and forth between a street-savvy, femme fatale and a damsel in distress—making the audience question whether she eventually loved Joel Goodson (Cruise’s character) or just played him for a fool the entire time.

When we first see Lana, she intrudes into Joel’s affluent suburban home in North Shore Chicago sporting blonde bangs and a gray sunflower dress.  The setting feels like we’re in a dream similar to the foggy shower scene and SAT fantasy sequence that establishes Joel’s character and his goals: getting laid and getting into college.  Joel trudges towards Lana and observes her from behind, uncertain as to whether or not she’s real.  As soon as Joel lifts Lana’s dress, the campy ambience of Tangerine Dream’s synthetic bass line, patio doors bursting open, and leaves flying into the house suggests two notions: that Lana is as unattainable as the American dream, or that she is easily attainable but at a high price.




The campiness of the violent wind bursting patio doors open and sweeping a flurry of leaves into the house as Lana’s naked body is revealed is intentional on the part of director and writer Paul Brickman. He’s paying homage to those great film noir directors who subverted censorship (courtesy of Hollywood’s Hays Code).  Sex couldn’t be shown on-screen, but directors found a loophole.  Whenever two lovers kissed on-screen, they’d use the image of a door bursting open to imply that sex would occur later.  In Spellbound (1945), Hitchcock pushes the sexual symbolism to the max.  As Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman suck face, not just one but numerous doors open in succession. In essence, Paul Brickman picks up where Hitchcock left off.

The love-making between Joel and Lana (which is still racy even in 2011) moves from the living room, to the stairwell, and to a leather chair in his father’s study.  Interestingly enough, as Lana rides Joel into a state of bliss, the television in the background runs a continuous loop of the American flag flapping in the wind.  The moment Joel cums the American flag disappears and is replaced with static. At this moment, it appears that Lana (i.e. the American dream) is more than within reach, but the static implies that the dream could come with an underlying cost? For a mere three-hundred dollars? A gaudy Steuben glass egg? Joel’s innocence? Or even worse, the static could very well exemplify that chasing the American dream, which was once perceived as decent and gratifying, is, indeed, cruel and demeaning.

De Mornay has a daunting task at hand: she must portray a lovable temptress who is not helpless yet not too ruthless in her pursuits to break free from Guido (her pimp, played by Joe Pantoliano).  After Lana and Joel’s night of fun, reality sets in: Joel needs to pay Lana three-hundred but only has fifty.  He leaves Lana at his house while he cashes his bonds at the bank.  When Joel returns, Lana and his mother’s precious Steuben glass egg are nowhere to be found.  Joel tracks Lana at a lavish hotel, thinking he’ll retrieve his mother’s glass egg but winds up assisting Lana in getting away from her pimp. 

Joel agrees to let Lana stay the night but is concerned when she won’t leave the next morning. When he says she can’t stay, Lana, playing on Joel’s inexperience, switches the subject: Didn’t you have a good time last night? To Joel, Lana seems clingy and he insists that she’s out of the house by the time school lets out.  While looking intensely at silverware, Lana appears to be casing the house—making us wonder about her intentions for not leaving.  She then takes the keys to Joel’s father’s Porsche 928 to pick up her friend at a train station.  Joel, who’s constantly eyeing the clock in his last class of the day, is anxious to return home.  There he finds that Lana and her friend have taken up residence in that they’ve turned his house into a brothel (Lana’s friend has serviced one of Joel’s friends and she offers to pay Joel fifty dollars for being the host). 

Lana and her friend finally leave only to return again when their pimp shows up.  Therein lies Lana’s plight: to recoup the money she owes Guido.  Under the influence of pot and the breathtaking view of Lake Michigan, Lana acknowledges the film’s ticking clock—Joel’s parents’ brief vacation—and proposes that Joel seize an opportunity and throw a party in which they could both make a killing of selling sex.  Joel, of course, refuses. 

In this same scene, there’s a tender exchange.  Leaning against the Porsche 928, Joel and Lana have their first real conversation that is not centered on business but family.  He strikes a nerve, however, when he asks why Lana isn’t in school.  Furious, she opens the car door to grab her purse.  Here’s where the ambiguity arrives: as Lana reaches for her purse, she switches the Porsche 928 into neutral.  As soon as Lana leaves, the car, which is parked downhill, rolls and rolls and finally stops at the edge of the pier.  However, the pier eventually buckles and the car falls into Lake Michigan.  Did Lana accidentally switch the car into neutral, or did she set this plan in motion?  Joel, who now needs money to fix his dad’s luxury car, has no choice but to accept Lana’s offer.  In another great scene, Joel arrives at Lana’s apartment distraught.  She embraces him, and, as the camera zooms in on her face, Lana’s disposition reveals a vague look that is neither entirely sympathetic nor completely distant.  De Mornay’s ability to produce this complicated expression is a testament to her talent in conveying Lana’s character.

For Lana, there’s no prospect of matriculating into an Ivy League school.  She wants independence as well as Joel.  It may appear that Joel desperately wants to get into Princeton. However, Princeton is not Joel’s dream, it’s his father’s dream.  The pressure of getting into a top business school is as intense as the peer pressure Joel felt early on to lose his virginity. He needed Lana to achieve the latter, but, like Lana, he seeks an alternative to success that a traditional education at Princeton can’t offer.  It is their determination to fight tradition and turn their back on the rat race that is risky business in the eyes of the Reagan administration; it is also this determination that seals their bond. 

At the party, Joel rakes in over eight-thousand dollars in one night: enough to pay for maintenance work on the flooded Porsche 928. When Joel returns home he sees that Guido, as payback for “stealing” his best call girl, has stolen all of his parent’s furniture.  In two hours time, Guido, forcing Joel to buy furniture that already belongs to his parents, exploits Joel for almost the same amount of money Joel made at his shindig.  Is this a scam that Lana has conceived?

There are moments when Lana juggles Decency and Corruption.  By the time the credits roll, though, we’re left wondering which bottle she’s dropped and which one she holds in her hand. 


Jonathan Moody lives in Fresno, TX, but his heart will always remain in Pittsburgh. He has a couple of poems forthcoming in African American Review & is simultaneously developing three poetry manuscripts: two of which are entitled The Bottle That Never Runs Dry & The Coffee Pot’s Propaganda.