Showgirls, much like Heaven’s gate, has a reputation that precedes it as a stereotypical and hyperbolized ‘bad film.’ The film itself can be argued as an ironic parody of a ‘bad showy film’; the casting of Elizabeth Berkely shows this double irony as she portrays a failure down-and-out girl, and similarly the film itself is a failure critically. In many ways it does live up to this opinion; I had watched this film some years ago when I was much younger and remember vividly being struck by the graphic nudity and brash rawness of the characters. I distinctly remember a friend who came into the room and asked if I was watching porn, just because the acting was so over-exaggerated and similarly the cinematography with Vegas in all its tacky, shining splendor, gave off the impression of a glamorized pornography.
This film provides many codes of eroticism; it is laden with flesh, sweat, desire, and sexually charged undertones between characters. In this way, sexuality becomes commodified, and the physical notion of the externally sexual form of the human body is exhibited as a form of the grotesque. We lose sight of the characters as internal beings, and rather judge them on their external attributions. Point and case with the protagonist Nomi Malone as she rises from from whore, to stripper, to showgirl, to finally a star, showcasing her body as a commodity to rise in the ranks, against the background of the sexually urbanized setting of the garish and vulgar Las Vegas strip. In the same way that Las Vegas is seen as tawdry and tastelessly ostentatious with its over-the top decoration, lights and glitz, we see the characters conform and mould themselves to their environment, bedazzling their nudity with sweat, sex, money and power.
In comparison, Point Break is a regression to the organic. In this film, the elements are as much a part of the protagonist’s transformation as Nomi Malone’s is as the Vegas culture seeps into her veins. The character of Keanu Reeves, with his uptight and conformed beginnings, undergoes a drastic transformation through the elements of the sea and air. The surfing and skydiving scenes are arguably some of the most visually compelling in all of cinema. This combination of the earth and air allows a profound connection to the naturalistic ‘highs’ in life. Whereas in Vegas it is all about the dark seedy stripclubs and artificial lighting, in Point Break we are shown the organic in the purest form, such as skydiving over the canyons and ocean at dawn. In this way, one can argue that the environment has as much a part to play in the plot and manipulation of the protagonists, as do the people and circumstances around them. In Showgirls the body is exposed as a commodity as artificial and commonplace as the Las Vegas lights, whereas in Point Break the body is much more of an essential part of the organic, whether it be on a surfboard against the waves, or in the sky.