It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Sex isn't the subject of "The Center of the World." It's the arena. The subject is making money, and the movie is about two people who hate their jobs. Richard (Peter Sarsgaard) is a computer whiz whose company is about to go public and make him a millionaire. Florence (Molly Parker) is a lap dancer in a strip club, but technically not a prostitute. You can be aroused by her, but you can't touch her. Richard is the same way. He skips a meeting with investors and disappears as his company floats its IPO. You can profit from his skills but you can't have him.
Here are two people who want to succeed only on their own terms. The big difference between them, as she points out, is "money. You have it and I don't." As a sex worker, her strategy is to get the client's money without giving herself. She meets Richard in a coffee shop. He finds out where she works, turns up and buys a lap dance. He's fascinated. He asks her to go to Las Vegas for a weekend. She says she's not that kind of person. "I can compensate you," he says. "Compensate" is a revealing word in this context. He offers her $10,000. She says he'll have to observe her rules. He agrees.
He may actually be happy to agree. She's spared him from performance anxiety. He gets the intrigue, the excitement, the mystique and her full attention, and avoids physical and psychological risk. Nice deal. Good for her, too, because she needs money but doesn't think of herself as a prostitute (she's "really" a drummer in a rock band). Director Wayne Wang says his film was inspired by the strip clubs of the Silicon Valley. They bring together men who have too much money and no interest in relationships with women who have too little money and no interest in relationships.
Sex supplies the stakes. It's the currency of the micro-economy created for a weekend by Richard and Flo. She manufactures sex, he consumes it, and cash flow is generated. When she goes a little further than her guidelines permit, that's like Alan Greenspan lowering interest rates. The casual observer may think the weekend is all about sex; more evolved viewers will notice that the sex is not very fulfilling, very original or very good; what is fascinating are the mind games. They're like negotiations. Flo is the better negotiator, but then of course she's the market-maker.