When Luke proposes to Emily within the opening ten minutes of Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, she says, “okay.” She looks visibly shocked, even excited, and maybe even happy to an extent, but she doesn’t utter the word “yes.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist for any sensible person to get the fact that the two words are clearly not the same in the context of a life-altering decision as big as this. In the US version of The Office, Angela said the same thing when Andy proposed to her, and despite the crowd going ballistic, the two of them didn’t end up together. What happens to Luke and Emily in Fair Play is far more severe, visceral, and very bloody. Domont uses blood as a storytelling tool in this tale. The film starts and ends with it, which is a testimony to how chaotic the battle between Emily and Luke has been.
In many ways, Fair Play can be seen as the long-lost cousin of David Fincher’s Gone Girl. The two films are different in terms of context, but there’s a thematic similarity. If Emily and Luke had gotten married, then their marriage probably would have turned into something like what Nick and Amy had in the Fincher film. However, unlike Amy, Emily in Fair Play is not a psychopath. She is just a person trying to do her best under the circumstances. And despite what it seems like to Luke, the odds are not actually in Emily’s favor.
I thought it was a great casting choice to have Phoebe Dynevor play the character. The Bridgerton actress is undeniably beautiful in a very conventional manner, and Dormont weaponizes that against the character Dynevor plays here. Emily’s informal 2am interview scene with her boss, Campbell, confirms that she has always been academically gifted, and her rise in the world of finance has been nothing short of meteoric. Naturally, Campbell betting on Emily and promoting her as the new PM makes all the sense in the world. But when Emily breaks the news to Luke, he gets this seed of doubt planted in his brain, which tells him that there might be something going on between Emily and Campbell. Imagine getting promoted on your own merit and the love of your life doubting your credibility and wondering whether you have slept with your boss to get where you are now! I bet the feeling is not particularly pleasant.
But Emily keeps trying to be a helpful, supportive fiancée. Luke does come off as all-supportive, at least initially. But then he takes it upon himself to establish Emily as a great PM, even though she never really asks for it. This is a clear indication of the man’s gigantic ego. While Emily doesn’t need Luke’s help to do good career-wise, Luke does need her in order to climb up the ladder, but his male ego is so fragile that he finds it really difficult to admit that. Only when things start to fall apart Luke “demands” that Emily put a word in for him. It’s ironic how that comes just the night after he accuses her of harlotry. I should clarify that I am not taking a side here. It is undeniable that some of Emily’s actions are downright problematic. Randomly demanding that Luke gets physical when he clearly doesn’t want to do it is never the right thing to do. But as the movie progresses, Luke makes it really hard to have any sympathy for him.
At times, love is a really stupid thing. A lot of things Emily does in the movie are because of her love for Luke, which ultimately lands her in trouble. When Luke throws a backhanded criticism at Emily regarding her appearance, where he compares her to a “cupcake,” which is rather insulting, Emily actually takes it under consideration instead of giving him an earful. She also trusts him with a big financial move, which results in the company losing millions of dollars, and Emily losing her hard-earned respect from people like Rory and Campbell. There comes a point when Emily finally starts doing the right thing for herself, and that’s what ticks Luke off.
I thought it was a great move by Domont to not make Luke and Emily get into a big fight until the very end. That way, the entire thing works as a long buildup to a cracking climax, which is bound to bring up a lot of discussions. We all saw this hellish mess of a fight coming, but we probably didn’t imagine it to be this ugly. Yes, I am referring to Luke sexually assaulting Emily here. One might do whataboutery regarding Emily also not stopping earlier in the film when Luke didn’t want her to keep going, but the damage Luke does to Emily is far more severe and emotionally affecting. What’s even worse is how nonchalant Luke acts afterward when Emily comes back home after a really terrible day at the office, which is also Luke’s fault. Luke’s action should be categorized as the worst kind of sexual crime one can commit, and everything else becomes redundant, after that. Maybe it also takes Emily to the point where she is not going to take the abuse anymore. It is quite unfortunate for the character that she had to go through this much cruelty to get there.
Cinema often acts as a reflection of reality. But often, it also shows us how things should be. I am sure there are tons of instances in the world where the Lukes get away without any consequence. That is why Fair Play needed to give Emily a win in the end. She couldn’t just let Luke go without a confrontation. When Emily takes the knife in her hand and waves it in front of a bleeding Luke, she finally takes the reins. Luke falling down at her feet is a symbol of patriarchy going down the drain. There is also no doubt about the fact that he genuinely means it when he apologizes for the final time. Emily doesn’t fail to acknowledge that, but her ordering him to clean the blood and then get out is the kind of treatment men like Luke really deserve.