Carnal Knowledge


Carnal Knowledge

Critics Consensus

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Total Count: 29


Audience Score

User Ratings: 5,514
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Movie Info

"Maybe you're not supposed to like it with someone you love." With a script by satirist and cartoonist Jules Feiffer, Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge (1971) ruthlessly exposed the damage wrought by pre-1960s sexual mores. From their post-World War II college years at Amherst through the Vietnam era, buddies Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) and Sandy (Art Garfunkel) are a catalogue of male sexual dysfunction. Sensitive Sandy falls in love with and marries college sweetheart Susan (Candice Bergen) only to wonder years later if he missed out on finding the perfect sex/love partner. Jonathan lives for aggressive sexual conquest (starting with Sandy's Susan in college), even as he rails against female "ballbusters," finally guilt-marrying his tiredly voluptuous mistress Bobbie (Ann-Margret, in an Oscar-nominated performance) after she tries to kill herself. By the late '60s, Sandy has moved on to a hippie chick girlfriend (Carol Kane) who can raise his consciousness about the sexual revolution, and Jonathan is single again, but Sandy is a little too old for the peace-and-love generation, and Jonathan bitterly faces emasculating impotence.

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Critic Reviews for Carnal Knowledge

All Critics (29) | Top Critics (5) | Fresh (25) | Rotten (4)

  • A rather superficial and limited probe of American male sexual hypocrisies.

    Feb 8, 2008 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • The picture has its moments of chilling insight, though essentially it is one more quaint early-70s stab at an American art cinema that never materialized.

    Feb 8, 2008 | Full Review…
  • This was never quite the major assault on sexism and male chauvinism it set itself up to be.

    Feb 9, 2006

    Tom Milne

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Stays within the universe of its characters, and inhabits it totally. And within that universe, men and woman fail to find sexual and personal happiness because they can't break through their patterns of treating each other as objects.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • In addition to being the toughest comedy since Little Murders, and the most imaginative comedy since Catch 22, Carnal Knowledge represents a nearly ideal collaboration of directorial and writing talents.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…
  • A sharp reflection about the relationship between young men and women. [Full Review in Spanish]

    Jul 23, 2019 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Carnal Knowledge

  • Jul 27, 2015
    I can't believe it took me so long to get to what was once must-see viewing back in the day, but at least now I know what all the fuss was about. Jack Nicholson owns this bit about life in the free swinging early 70's, where "making it" was more important than keeping it, regardless of the consequences. Nicholson represents those as well, oblivious as to why he's so fuggin' miserable. The rest of the cast is good, but Ann-Margret rules as the woman trying to be all things in the maelstrom of changing paradigms those days embodied.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Dec 07, 2011
    Both sexually exploitative and immature in their own ways, two men navigate changing sexual mores during the sexual revolution. I always thought that <i>Closer</i> was the meanest film ever made, certainly the meanest in Mike Nichols's canon. Now that I've seen <i>Carnal Knowledge</i>, I think <i>Closer</i> might have found its match but not its better. Exploring themes of lust and betrayal, <i>Carnal Knowledge</i> centers on the lives of two men, played by Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel, who resort to sex and sexual relationships to determine their self-worth. They wonder if the relationships they've had precluded them from other experiences, and what the film amounts to is a perception that no matter what path we choose, we're doomed to regret and a paralyzing lack of fulfillment. Nicholson's performance is one of the best of his career; the argument between his character and Bobbie is up there with the best moments he's ever put on film. Ann-Margaret is also incredible, and Garfunkel surprised me with his lonely, awkward naivete. The script is also superb with such great lines as Sandy claiming that a woman is doing him a favor is she sleeps with him and of course, "I'd almost marry you if you leave me." Overall, like <i>Closer</i>, this is a love story for adults -- cynical adults who know that the rules of engagement are always changing and often aggressive.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Oct 21, 2011
    Nicholsan's portrayal of a bastard is spot on.
    Graham J Super Reviewer
  • Aug 09, 2011
    "Would You Rather Love A Woman Or Have A Woman Love You?" Carnal Knowledge is a series of dialogues between two young college men, roommates and lifelong friends forever preoccupied with women and sex. Both are virgins when they first meet. The young cocky Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) is the more knowledgeable and attractive of the two; but quite the hedonistic bastard while the more sensitive Sandy (Art Garfunkel) is his friend, the nice guy who falls in love with a lovely coed Susan (Candice Bergen) and unknowingly shares her with his college buddy. As the "safer" one of the two, he is selected by Susan for marriage. Fast forward a few years and now both men are in their thirties, pursuing successful careers in New York. Jonathan has been running through an average of a dozen women a year but has never managed to meet the right one, the one with the full bosom, the good legs and the properly rounded bottom until at long last, he finds Bobby (Ann-Margret), an aging bachelor girl with striking cleavage and, quite obviously, something of a past in a bar. "Why don't we shack up?" she suggests. They do and a horrendous relationship ensues, complicated mainly by her obsessive desire to marry culminating in one of Jonathan's greatest fits of rage ever, matched by Bobby's emotional breakdown as she begs him to marry her. <a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic"></a> Meanwhile, what has become of Sandy? He is a bored suburban husband, the sparks have gone out of his marriage, the sex has lost its flavor, and in order to spice up his life he hangs out with Cindy, (Cynthia O'Neal) a New York career woman who, according to Sandy, gives instructions in bed as if she were a drill sergeant. Also excellent in a smaller role is Rita Moreno, whose scene of servicing an unfeeling and impotent Jonathan, may be the harshest in the film in terms of critiquing male chauvinism. My thoughts: CK`s frankness in dealing with these young men's sexual psychology is quite daring for the 1970s. It's noteworthy that "Carnal Knowledge" was released just as the emerging feminist movement began to have some voice in real American life. The early scenes between Nicholson and Garfunkel were fresh and sincere and Nicholson as the male monster is excellent. Spanning some three decades of their friendship, we see how their attitudes towards sex, and women in general, shape their lives. Something seems to be missing that would would`ve made it a classic and I think this would have been helped with a better ending but hey that is just my opinion.
    Deb S Super Reviewer

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