Director Jerzy Skolimowski is from Poland. The film was shot and set in London. There may not be any subtitles, but Deep End is foreign. It is even more than that, this is a movie is what I would call an alien film.
Set in a London public bath house, the central location of Deep End is unfamiliar to my American eyes. dilapidated and over-run with tawdry clients and workers the location has the public openness of a YMCA, the service of a spa, and the seedy nature of an Eastern European brothel. Without doing any research it is impossible for me to tell if this sort of facility is common during that swinging era in London’s history and if so, how typical this depiction is of a public bath house.
As shocking as the bath house is for me, it appears to be equally shocking for the film’s main character. A teenage boy working his first job, Mike, quickly learns that his female clients tip more when you provide a towel and a little something else. Awkwardly unsure of the demands put upon him by his older female customers Mike’s libido is reserved for his flirtatious, red-headed co-worker, Susan. Mike’s curiosity grows to creepiness as he begins to spy on Susan both at work and after work. The young man grows increasingly more upset when he discovers that Susan, unlike Mike, has no qualms about pleasing her clients. Mike’s interest for Susan becomes a mixture of lust and repulsion.
Deep End possess an odd mixture of banality and sexiness. The run-down environs of the bath house hold no beauty and most of the clients who come seeking more than a bath are sad, not seductive. But, then there is Jane Asher, who plays the role of Susan. It is easy to see how Mike is drawn to her beauty. However, he has no understanding of how to socially engage with the opposite sex. Jumping between extremely shy and forcefully overzealous Mike’s behavior is as foreign or alien, but not so much that a hint of the familiar lies beneath. We have all desired the unattainable at some point and even though we know the object of our desire is out of reach, we cannot help but imagine that we and only we are the perfect match. Still, most of us would not go to the rather odd lengths that Mike goes to first attract Susan and then to manipulate her into spending time with him. All of which culminates into a most wonderful pay-off in the empty pool of the bath house.
Besides the characteristics of its main character and its central location the alien nature of Deep End comes from the audio quality of the film and its soundtrack. The entire film sounds over-dubbed creating the sense that there is a physical space between the audio and the video. This physical space between the two elements of the films is something most films try to minimize. Whether Deep End creates this chasm of space for artistic or pragmatic purposes it probably more of the latter than the former, but the disconnect between the two also mimics Mike’s own disconnect between his ideal image of Susan and the reality of her wonton ways. Then, there is the matter of the soundtrack. With songs by Cat Stevens and story about awkward love I can’t help but think of Harold and Maude, yet that film would come out one year later than Deep End.