Zipper


Sam Ellis (Patrick Wilson) had it all: good looks, big time job as a federal prosecutor, beautiful wife, Jeannie (Lena Headey), adorable young son, house in the suburbs, nice car, and adoring minions who keep telling him he ought to aspire to a higher office. He's high-principled about going after those who prey on the weak, but somehow his high-mindedness falls just short of arrogance; he manages to instill confidence in others that he is both highly motivated and highly competent. Of course all that requires a certain amount of ego and self-confidence, which is what one day provoked an amorous advance from a very attractive young intern.
Sam didn't fall for it, but something about that passionate kiss in the alleyway awakened the atavastic within him. When the next case he was working on produced an eyewitness who happened to be a high-priced call girl, all she had to do was tell him the name of her “service,” and when he looked it up online, he was hooked. On hookers.
But the beautiful young models whom he met in hotel rooms weren't sleazy, scatalogical, or hard-edged cokeheads----yet. They were not only easy on the eyes, they were easy to be with---for a price, of course. $2500 per hour. Making a habit of that would put most people in money difficulty. And Sam Ellis was no exception. His lovely wife was also starting to get suspicious; not so much for a lack of ardor at home as his unexplained absences, and later, his sudden credit card issues.
But by this time Sam is in full-fledged denial. He really doesn't even admit to himself that he's doing this; as if the man who is making these arrangement on “burn” phones and going to rendez-vous in swanky hotel rooms is not really him, it's an alternate version of him. He begins to rationalize, of course, that this is his “private” time, that it doesn't impact his marriage or his career, and that he's deserving of this rock-star treatment from this bevy of beautiful ladies (never mind he's paying them to fulfill his fantasies about them).
Director Mora Stephens (who also wrote the screenplay) takes very seriously the addictive nature of Sam's personality; someone who's enjoying the “playing with fire” aspect of knowing how much it would damage his life if he gets caught. But “Zipper” goes one step further when Jeannie actually does find out, and makes her own devil's bargain to keep a lid on the damaging information, because she's vicariously ambitious for her husband. It's not so much that she's disappointed in him for indulging himself, it's more like she's furious with him for being stupid enough to get caught.
So instead of the predictable blowup at the end, where everyone's life is ruined, we have, instead, a partnership of deception, which seems even more perverted. It's not surprising that one of the high-priced “escorts” is portrayed as a “real” woman with real family problems (she's trying to earn medical care for her terminally ill mother). What's surprising is how determined everyone is to continue to play out the fantasy, even though everybody knows it isn't real. As if the fantasies are at least more bearable than reality.
Ah, what complex webs of deceit we spin.

Questions For Discussion:
  1. What high-profile celebrities have been associated with high-priced “escort” services? How did this affect their careers?
  2. Are the “call girls” automatically being abused, and need rescuing, or are they themselves manipulating others for personal gain? Or both?
  3. Why would a fantasy encounter be preferable to a “real” person?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas