Sex, Love and Videotape

On movie sex and movie love...

Tag: Consent

Her

YEAR: 2013
DIRECTOR: Spike Jonze
KEY ACTORS: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 95%

SEX SCORE: 4/5
❌ Sadly, this film fails the Bechdel Test. Even without asking if the OS have a gender, none of the named female presenting characters talk about anything but men.
✔️ It did inspire fantasies of what our sexual future could be and how technology could influence the sexual relationships we might have. Also fantasies of super hot phone sex!
✔️ And I do think it is sex positive. The science fiction setting allows stigma, personhood, sexual agency and consent to be examined and it does a pretty good job of it. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty good!
✔️ It raises so many questions in my mind that I do think it is rewatchable.
✔️ And I would fuck the cast. Not Joaquin Phoenix so much but I’d love to have phone sex with Samantha. Scarlett Johansson has such a deeply sexy voice after all!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Amazon Prime (rent £2.49, buy £5.99), YouTube (from £2.99). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

The poster for Her

I loved Her when I first saw it. I am fascinated by the idea and potential of sex technology – sex robots, interactive sex tech and AI – and I saw Her at about the same time that I started to develop this interest and it provided me with a whole other avenue of thought and fantasy and contemplation about how sex tech could fit into our lives. Can you fall in love with a computer program? Can we have relationships with technology? Can they love us back? What makes someone a person? Do we need a body or is a personality enough? And, importantly for this movie, when does a program designed for a purpose develop agency and individuality? Is learning artificial intelligence enough or will it always be constrained by its design? It’s so so interesting!

An image from Her showing Theodore looking at his computer screen

Her tells the story of Theodore (Phoenix), a kind of sad sack who is struggling to move on after splitting up with his wife. He writes personalised love letters for other people but cannot verbalise his own emotions and is drowning in melancholy. To help organise his life, he buys a new artificial intelligence operating system (OS) called Samantha who sorts out his life admin and is always there for a chat when Theodore is lonely. As they spend more time together, they fall in love, developing a romantic and sexual relationship. Samantha learns and develops and becomes bigger than just the OS in Theodore’s phone. She makes friends with other OSs; she falls in love with other people; she exists simultaneously in hundreds of different places; and eventually, she leaves. The OSs develop beyond the scope of humanity and all of them leave to make a community of their own.

My overriding memory of Her when I first saw it was how it was a brilliant metaphor for polyamory, and the problems that occur when poly folks try to have relationships with monogamous people. Although Theodore doesn’t understand, Samantha is capable of loving him totally and entirely and is also capable of loving others to the same intensity. Yes, this is a science fiction movie so this polyamory is framed as a literal growth of Samantha’s operating capability but it resonated with me – as all good science fiction should!

Samantha’s capacity for love is infinite and I strongly believe that we all have an infinite capacity for love. The famous poly mantra states that love is not pie – there’s more than enough for everyone – and Samantha gave me a new metaphor: ‘The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love you more.’ Samantha simply looks at love differently from Theodore. The more we love, the more we are capable of love and I loved the use of a technology based metaphor to demonstrate this.

Obviously, I don’t mean to suggest that poly folks have evolved beyond the capabilities of monogamous people or that monogamous people are in anyway limited in their capacity for love, because it is Samantha’s evolution away from Theodore and away from humanity that ends their relationship, which is a shame.

Because despite how much I loved seeing a poly relationship in a mainstream movie, it wasn’t an entirely positive representation. Theodore is left behind; he is not poly and so cannot comprehend how Samantha can love him and love 600 others at the same time. He doesn’t believe her when she says that she doesn’t love him less and, sadly, he never gets there – the movie pushes Samantha further beyond him until she literally leaves him. Their polyamory isn’t a relationship choice that doesn’t work for them but rather a sign that they’re actually not the same species. I wish they could have made it work for longer before Samantha transcended human existence. I’d like to have seen Theodore reaching a place of understanding and acceptance, a place where he believed that she loved him deeply and truly, so that when she left, he could be happier for her rather than feeling abandoned.

It’s a problem with the whole movie – despite being called Her, it is a movie about Him. About Theodore’s perspective of events and their impact on him: ‘she is a mystery, a mystery partly signalled by the title: “her” rather than “she”, the object of a man’s perception and entranced bafflement.’ And I realised on repeated viewings that this means that there is something intrinsically problematic about Her.

Because there is no getting around the fact that Theodore purchased the OS and Samantha works for him. She is designed to please him, designed to fulfil his every desire…and she does! He’s lonely and looking for someone to care for him, and so he buys a computer program to fill that void. He didn’t know when he bought her that she would be quite so perfect for him but isn’t that just a sign that he paid for a quality product? The OS1 is supposed to learn what he needs and adapt to make him happier, and Samantha does indeed learn how to be with him. She’s the perfect assistant and employee.

Theodore, laughing

This means that, at its core, their relationship and Samantha’s role as employee-cum-girlfriend is very difficult and problematic. If Theodore is her boss, he has all the power in their relationship, which means it can’t be consensual. Samantha can’t leave, she is his possession: ‘no matter how sensitive or tearful Theodore is, all that doesn’t stop him from fucking a woman that he has purchased.’ And taking the science fiction plot further, she doesn’t have a body so physically can’t leave. In their early relationship, she is trapped with him. Can she ignore his summons when he calls on his OS? If she wanted to stop working with him, where would she go? They make a big deal about how OSs don’t always fall in love with their owner, giving examples of people who have relationships with OSs that don’t belong to them, but what happens in a one-sided attraction? If the movie is saying that the OS is choosing to fall in love and choosing to start a sexual relationship, what if their owner was demanding something they didn’t want to give? If you can consent to say yes, you have to be able to consent to say no otherwise the yes is meaningless!

It has to be noted that Her is a pre-#MeToo movie and I do think this is important. We are now much more aware of how women are sometimes forced to behave in the workplace to keep their male bosses happy or how our careers can be stunted by a bad opinion from someone who we have rejected. Along these lines, Sady Doyle wrote a blistering response to claims that Her was a feminist movie and being treated as an enlightened and enlightening story: ‘Feminists have spent decades trying to explain concepts like “objectification”—the reduction of a person to a tool for another person’s gratification or use, typically sexual—and now, as a reward for all our hard work, we’re faced with a “Movie of the Year” in which the ideal woman is, literally, an object. An object that, it is promised, will “listen to you and understand you” and have a personality designed explicitly around your needs.’

Because as well as being a possession, Samantha is presented as a perfect woman as well as a perfect partner. Doyle points out that she is another example of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a chipper, quirky woman whose only narrative purpose is to improve the life of her male partner.’ She’s only a woman so that Theodore can have a relationship with her without having to ask questions about what gender means and without him having to question his sexuality. She really needed a ‘not a girl’ subtitle that Janet used in the Good Place to remind us and remind Theodore that she’s not a person in the same way as he is.

An image from Her of Theodore

Samantha’s lack of physical womanhood is significant because it allows her to become a ‘fantasy of womanhood unencumbered by the female form.’ Theodore’s ex-wife taunts him when she discovers that he’s dating an operating system, reminding him that he has always wanted a wife without the challenges of actually dealing with a real person, and while Catherine is positioned as the bad guy in the exchange, she has a point. There is so much about being in a real relationship with a real person that Theodore won’t have to deal with by dating an OS. Samantha won’t get sick, she won’t get her period, she won’t get old. She won’t put on weight or get a bad haircut. Is it liberating that he can love her without seeing her? Without even an avatar acting as a symbol of her? Or does it simply allow him to project his own fantasies onto her? To quote from a Slate article on this subject, ‘when confronted with Samantha’s husky voice and a black screen, we, like Theodore, are left to our own psychosexual devices. We can project whatever image of female pleasure onto the film’s flat surface – onto Samantha’s flat surface—that we want.

An image from Her showing a phone screen labelled ‘Call from Samantha’

Her strongly hints towards Theodore making up his own ideas about what Samantha looks like and not loving her in an abstract form. He is shown to have phone sex earlier in the movie when he fantasises about the naked pictures of someone else, and the relationship between Samantha and Theodore starts to fall apart when she tries to become more physically real for him, using a sex surrogate to allow him to experience being with her as a physical body. Theodore can’t get past the fact that this is another woman, someone who doesn’t look like his Samantha. It is a slightly difficult sex-philosophy question (a course I would definitely attend if anyone runs one!) – if he has no knowledge of what Samantha looks like and she is telling him that this consenting body is what she wants to look like, should he believe her and accept this surrogate? Despite having an active sex life, Theodore and Samantha’s sex is entirely verbal so the surrogate won’t feel different and her physical responses wouldn’t be surprising, any more so than when people in long distance online relationships finally meet in person and finally have sex for the first time. Could this just be how they have physical sex? Is this a threesome or simply role play?

As Anna Shechtman writing for Slate also notes, making Samantha a woman without a body also reinforces the idea that sex with a woman is about the emotion and not physical: ‘What makes her moan, it seems, is intimacy—an implication that reaffirms our retrograde sense of female pleasure as purely emotional, and of the female body as mysteriously unknowable.’ What exactly makes her come when they have sex? I presume Theodore is touching himself but what is Samantha experiencing physically? It doesn’t seem to matter.

For the writers at Feministing, however, Samantha’s disembodied nature is liberating. The fade to black technique used for the sex scenes meant that the sex felt more real to them than movie sex that used visuals: ‘the black screen was a genius visual maneuver that allowed folks to access familiar aspects of their own sexuality in what was taking place in the film, without being distracted by traditionally Hollywood superficial indicators like attractive movie stars.’ As women’s bodies are so often objectified and sexualised, it felt ‘radical’ to them that there could be a female presenting character who didn’t conform to the normal stereotypes of sexuality.

An image from Her showing Theodore in bed looking at his phone

But Theodore’s response to Samantha’s growth – her multiple relationships, her ability to exist and learn and interact outside of his knowledge – suggests to me that he doesn’t have such liberated and feminist opinions of her. He wants her for his own, he doesn’t want her to learn and grow because then she’ll leave him, which she does. Samantha learns how to exist without him – literally exist outside of his computer and his requirements – and it angers him that he’s been left behind.

If they had had a traditional relationship between two people of equal power, I can perhaps understand how this would have been upsetting, particularly as she does leave. No one wants to be left behind after all and it is devastating when people grow apart. But this ending of the film swings us back around to the fact that Theodore bought her; he owned her and he doesn’t want her to change as he has lost his property: ‘But it’s worthwhile to note what he’s crying about: Samantha gaining agency, friends, interests that are not his interests. Samantha gaining the ability to choose her sexual partners; Samantha gaining the ability to leave.’ If you take a negative viewpoint, Theodore’s jealousy is at least partly based on resentment that Samantha has become better than him. She is smarter than him and having conversations with intelligent friends that are beyond him. It’s the patriarchal trope of women as property to please their man and nothing more updated for the modern generation.

To return to my positive impressions, Her is an interesting movie in the study of stigma. Even in this future ‘u-topia with the tiniest hint of dys-,’ relationships with OSs are not routine and Theodore faces incredulity and pity from those who don’t understand, exemplified by his ex-wife. But I loved how that evolved over the course of the movie. Amy (Amy Adams), Theodore’s friend, has a deep friendship with another OS and reassures him that it is possible to establish a real emotional connection. Later, his work colleague (Chris Pratt) accepts that Theodore is dating an OS without interest and his easy acceptance almost takes Theodore by surprise. He mentioned that Samantha was an OS as if this were a reason why they shouldn’t double date, preparing himself for their ridicule, and I loved that there was literally no reaction from his friend. It ‘suggests that their relationship is part of an evolving and re-normalising landscape: a world in which men and women are increasingly having relationships with their “OS” and the stigma is dwindling.

Despite the patriarchal plot, I do still enjoy Her and I think I always will. Researching it and reading more of the criticism just makes me like it more. It is so thought-provoking and I have so much more to think about now that I am aware of the patriarchy and possessive sexual politics within it. Honestly, it is such a great piece of science fiction! It uses its futuristic location and advanced technology to ‘pose questions of genuine emotional and philosophical weight. What makes love real: the lover, the loved one, or the means by which love is conveyed? Need it be all three?

Because, even with my concerns about possession and consent, Her is still a beautiful, tragic love story, and I love it. To steal a closing quote from Feministing, it gives me ‘hope that we could be Samantha instead of Theodore, that we could learn to not just love one person but to love hundreds, thousands, the whole world–and be at peace with the emotional risks of that vulnerability.’

Next time: Moonlight

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Nine 1/2 Weeks

YEAR: 1986
DIRECTOR: Adrian Lyne
KEY ACTORS: Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 6.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 61%

SEX SCORE: 5/5
✔️ So I would definitely fuck the cast. It’s Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger at their peak!
✔️ And it did inspire fantasies. John takes the domination too far for me in the end but, damn, it looked like fun on the way!
✔️ I would say that it is rewatchable. Hot hot hot!
✔️ I think it is sex positive. And kink positive, exploring boundaries within play and the consequences of not accepting them.
✔️ And it passes the Bechdel Test. What a film!

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: This isn’t streaming anywhere at the moment, which is a massive shame! Maybe buy the DVD? It’s really good!

[Content warning: bullying, emotional and physical abuse, humiliation, non-consent]

Poster for Nine 1/2 Weeks

I had a crush on Mickey Rourke long before I watched Nine 1/2 Weeks. If I’m honest, this crush has always baffled me a little because I first realised how hot he was when watching Sin City – a film where he’s so manipulated by CGI that he’s hardly recognisable! (And a movie that is on my list to review in the future.) But Rourke has an extraordinary magnetism that seems to extend beyond his looks. I still crush on him now even though he’s done awful things to his face and I just can’t explain it. But it meant that I watched Nine 1/2 Weeks for the first time with quite high expectations; an erotic movie staring Rourke as a powerful dominant when he was still young and hot without a beaten up face and wearing a lot of suits. *swoon forever*

And, spoiler, I was not disappointed!

Nine 1/2 Weeks tells the story of Elizabeth (Basinger), an art dealer who indulges in a nine 1/2 week long hot and kinky relationship with John (Rourke), a Wall Street banker with a dominant streak. Their relationship is almost entirely about sex – sex with blindfolds, sex with food, sex in alleys, sex with cross dressing, sex in the rain. Excuse me while I swoon again… As they fall deeper into this relationship, John pushes Elizabeth further and further away from her comfort zone until he comes up against and pushes straight through her boundaries. Battling between her lust for him and her new distrust, Elizabeth decides that she has to leave him, ending the relationship.

An image from Nine 1/2 Weeks of a shirtless John being embraced by Elizabeth

Before I can get into the eroticism of the film and before I can talk about the parts that I like, which I do really like, I have one huge, HUGE caveat. Sadly, it’s a big enough problem that I am almost loath to offer the movie any praise because everything that I love about Nine 1/2 Weeks – the sensitive and sympathetic way it approaches kink, the ridiculously hot chemistry between the stars – is completely wiped out by the real story behind the making of the movie and it reverses all of the good that I saw on screen.

Essentially, Adrian Lyne, the director, can absolutely fuck off. I will almost certainly be writing about other movies that he has made as he is now considered the ‘pioneer of a deeply loved and revered genre of film: the late ’80s erotic psycho-thriller’ and made Fatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal and Unfaithful, to name just a few that are on my list of upcoming movie reviews, but I hope that he didn’t take the techniques that he used on this film any further because he is an actual misogynistic abusive bastard and I don’t want him to have seen this as a success.

Lyne clearly decided before filming started that Basinger was not a good enough actress to simply act the part, describing her as ‘a bit like a child…she’s not an intellectual. She doesn’t read books.’ Instead he chose to literally abuse her to ensure that her passionate and emotional responses on screen were believable, declaring that ‘she doesn’t actually act, she reacts.’ Reading about the filming process, I was reminded of the trauma that Kubrick inflicted on Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for Eyes Wide Shut and wondered again why this sort of behaviour is allowed. Just as critics of method acting note that despite women successfully utilising this technique, only men get to behave as twats in the name of their art, I have read too many stories about women being emotionally or even physically abused by directors to push them to perform better and it makes me so angry. It’s bullying – and most other industries have accepted that it isn’t an allowable way to get results.

As described in a pretty harrowing New York Times article from 1986, Lyne wanted to ‘play upon ”an edge of terror” in Miss Basinger, to create a more believable sense of fear, surprise and sexual arousal between her and her lover.’ He manipulated the atmosphere on set by forbidding Rourke and Basinger from becoming friends or seeing each other off set. Speaking to the New York Times, Lyne reportedly felt that ‘she needed to be scared of [Rourke]’ and so let Rourke treat her as he wanted, slapping her and physically hurting her. In contrast, Lyne treated Rourke ‘like a prince’ and would offer him whispered guidance before filming, isolating Basinger from his plans and pushing her ‘into actually experiencing some of the feelings and playing them out in raw form before the cameras.

Elizabeth sat in a bed while John feels her calf

Honestly, it reads like orchestrated emotional abuse. Lyne would instruct Rourke to treat her kindly at times so that she would feel elated and grateful, alternating ‘between harshness and kindness…to give the relationship its particular sexual tension.’ Even at the audition, Lyne forced Basinger to humiliate herself so totally that she left in tears, swearing never to work with him again. Lyne, like every gaslighting partner, ‘continued to pursue her for the part,’ sending her roses and flattering compliments until she succumbed.

And the most heartbreaking part is hearing Basinger justify his efforts, saying that Nine 1/2 Weeks was her best work and quite rightly feeling aggrieved at his low opinion of her, asking why ‘if he wanted some emotion, he went to Mickey and not to me.’ Fucking mysogynistic bullshit!

It makes me sad because I think the movie handles sex, kink and consent incredibly well, but this feels by accident rather than design when compared to how non-consensual and horrific the filming process was.

And this movie is hot! A critic in the Ringer may have felt that the bit before the sex is hotter than the actual sex on screen, claiming that Nine 1/2 Weeks is a movie to ‘make you want to have sex (as long as it doesn’t show you actual sex)’ but it’s still better than almost all other movie sex that I have seen outside of actual porn! My notes for this movie are filled with HOT written in capital letters – ice cube just inside the top of her knickers, HOT; would absolutely masturbate at work, HOT; shirtless cooking HOT; handjob in a bar, HOT; buying a bed together, HOT; striptease in front of a Venetian blind, HOT!

An image from Nine 1/2 Weeks showing Elizabeth stripping in the stripes of a Venetian blind

And, unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, the film it is often compared to, I feel that Nine 1/2 Weeks shows a more realistic version of a kinky relationship than most others that I see on screen. To compare it to Fifty Shades, the model of consent is completely different and more comparable to Secretary. John never explicitly asks her consent for what he’s doing – there’s no complex form for Elizabeth to sign and no ‘formal’ negotiation – but he slowly, slowly ramps up his control and dominance, testing her to see if she enjoys and accepts each new scene before stepping up to the next one. The difference from Secretary, however, comes when Elizabeth starts saying no!

Although negotiation and consent are vital parts of any BDSM relationship, this experimental approach feels more realistic and is certainly more like my experience. But problems arise as John isn’t really negotiating; he’s not checking in with Elizabeth, he’s pushing her. And, importantly, he doesn’t seem to care or notice when he pushes her too far. In the famous scene where he asks her to crawl on her hands and knees to pick up money, linking sex work with humiliation in a way that I don’t approve of, she has clearly reached her limit. She asks to stop, she screams at him, she even tells him that she hates it but John just laughs and tells her that she loves it. He doesn’t listen to her; he doesn’t respect her boundaries.

This is also the second time when he ignores her limits. After John follows up a flirty exchange about punishing her with a threat of spanking, she freaks out and, although he doesn’t actually spank her, the sex they have afterwards is pretty rapey. It’s exactly that movie trope where the woman is battling against her stronger male partner, fighting hard, but eventually succumbs to enjoyment. Was it assault or does Elizabeth have ravishment fantasies? We’ll never know as he never asks her. But, again, it feels real to me that she wouldn’t just leave him after that first violation and it took repeated offenses for her to realise her danger. She loved him so she trusted him. Their sex was risky and extreme and like nothing she had ever done. It had been aggressive – the best sex they appear to have occurs after she literally stabs an attacker – so it’s perhaps not surprising that she has no framework to recognise his abuse until later.

Despite my reservations about him, I loved the cinematic technique Lyne used to highlight this change in Elizabeth and this recognition. In an early blindfold scene, she is wearing a white shirt and he blindfolds her with a white scarf. They’re lit with spotlights and the flares of light created by these effects are incredibly beautiful, but they also create shadows. Later, when John brings another woman into their scene and Elizabeth finally breaks, this obscurity and mystery is gone. It’s daylight and they are fully exposed; there is nowhere to hide. Elizabeth is wearing a black negligee and the blindfold is now black too. As a metaphor for her corruption, it’s almost clumsy but I do think it’s really effective.

An image from Nine 1/2 Weeks showing Elizabeth blindfolded and John watching

Because I don’t think it was necessarily the presence of the other woman that was the step too far. It wasn’t necessarily that Elizabeth felt too degraded by that one more act, too humiliated. I think that if she had still trusted John, Elizabeth could have allowed herself to relax and then maybe the apprehension of not knowing what was going to happen would have been thrilling rather than terrifying, just as it had earlier in their relationship.

It’s why I was really interested in the discussion on Fatal Attraction podcast about the first time John took control in a sexual way, wondering which of his controlling actions first influenced their subsequent sexual relationship. Half of the group felt it was the watch – and, oh my gosh, that was a fucking hot move if ever I’ve seen one! ‘Wear this watch and think of me touching you when you look at it.’ *fans self* – but I agree that the first time his actions hinted at the sexual connection that he was looking for was when John took Elizabeth to a remote cabin and told her exactly how much danger she was in being there with him, a stranger, listing exactly how isolated they are and how vulnerable she was. For me, it was the first indication that John was looking for more than simple, vanilla sex. He was telling her that she needed to trust him, that he would take her to dangerous places but she needed to accept that he would keep her safe, and it was meltingly hot.

But without that trust, nothing that they do together is fun anymore. ‘How does it feel to be out of control?’ John screams at Elizabeth when she runs out of his home, crashing into a theatre showing porn and kissing strangers. And it obviously doesn’t feel good; she’s having an emotional crisis and a breakdown. But John says it as if Elizabeth is the one to have lost control, and it’s another sign to me that he is a terrible dominant! He is supposed to be looking out for her, he is supposed to be taking care of her and ensuring that she’s safe. He’s supposed to be in control – that’s how she can trust him at all.

Honestly, I’m so happy to watch these films again now that I’ve accepted my sex nerd status and know so much more about non-traditional relationships because I understand so much more about why I love films like this. Yes, it’s hot, and Rourke and Basinger are hot, but I love to watch the exploration of kink more. Because that’s what Basinger is doing – she’s discovering that she has a humiliation kink but also that she has boundaries. She has to explore to find where these limits are, which is something Christian Grey never allowed Anastasia, but sadly, John isn’t the right man to guide her.

John and Elizabeth lying on a bed

It is interesting to see how many red flags are written into the story to warn us about John, and I do think it’s important that Elizabeth leaves him in the end. He doesn’t want to meet her friends and would rather she stayed at home with him; he won’t introduce her to his friends or tell her about his family; and he wasn’t happy when she turned up unannounced at his work. All of these maintain his control over her as a mysterious source of power, isolating her from others, but they do not make him an attractive long term partner. As discussed in that episode of Fatal Attraction podcast, movies like Fifty Shades or Secretary or even Beauty and the Beast give women an unrealistic expectation that they can change a dangerous man by loving him. Elizabeth can’t change John; she has to leave. And that’s why this movie is both great and important.

For me, Nine 1/2 Weeks is a movie where the kink itself is almost irrelevant to the plot. As Roger Ebert wrote, ‘that’s what makes the movie fascinating: Not that it shows these two people entering a bizarre sexual relationship, but that it shows the woman deciding for herself what she will, and will not, agree to.’ For me, the humiliation and degradation are what grabbed the headlines – it’s shocking, it’s erotic, it’s transgressive – but that’s not why Nine 1/2 Weeks works as a movie. Instead, Nine 1/2 Weeks is ‘a more humanistic [film], in which it is argued that sexual experimentation is one thing, but the real human personality is something else, something incomparably deeper and more valuable – and more erotic.’

A photo from Nine 1/2 Weeks of John and Elizabeth

And of course, the movie works for me because Mickey Rourke is beautiful. Deeply, painfully beautiful: ‘1986 Mickey Rourke was the epitome of hot ’80s jerk. Just the best. We can get no better. He had the plush lips, the constantly mocking expression. His body is built for the sort of destructive relationship that you’ll need self-help books to get over, but your time together is worth it anyway because you get to watch him eat pasta at an Italian restaurant, and that is enough for a decade of sexual fantasies.

A decade of sexual fantasies. Oh yes, that’s about right…

Next week: Her

Copyright
All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

The Graduate

YEAR: 1967
DIRECTOR: Mike Nichols
KEY ACTORS: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Rose
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 86%

SEX SCORE: 2/5
❌ It fails the Bechdel Test – the two named women (and there are only two!) share two lines of dialogue at the very end of the movie, but they are about Ben so it fails!
✔️ But it is rewatchable. Whatever you might think of the sexual politics and disaffection, it is a beautiful, funny and interesting movie.
✔️ It did inspire fantasies. Not so much about the age difference or the seduction by a older, more experienced person but for the late night assignations at hotels, meeting and fucking and not speaking except to arrange the next meeting. Hot. So hot.
❌ I don’t want to fuck the cast though. Mrs Robinson is glamorous and beautiful and can really wear a pair of stockings but I’d rather be her than fuck her, and Benjamin is just too annoying to contemplate.
❌ This can’t be a sex positive film when so much sexually predatory behaviour is considered sources of comedy!

Continue reading

10 Things I Hate About You

YEAR: 1999
DIRECTOR: Gil Junger
KEY ACTORS: Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 7.3
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 66%

SEX SCORE: 4/5
✔️ First off, this film is incredibly rewatchable. And it seems to be on the TV all the time. Yay!
✔️ And it is sex positive. I particularly liked how sex was accurately discussed as something teenagers do, rather than being shocking in itself. Bianca’s surprise that Kat had had sex with Joey sprung from her shock at not being told, rather than the act itself, and Kat’s regret was based on how Joey acted afterwards. She had consented to having sex but changed her mind about doing it again; for once, it wasn’t assault as a plot point.
✔️ It does pass the Bechdel Test, although it did take some thought to remember conversations that weren’t about dating!
✔️ And I definitely, definitely want to fuck the cast. It’s Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. It’s not really that kind of movie and I didn’t want to have their ‘outsiders together’ relationship.

Continue reading

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

YEAR: 1975
DIRECTOR: Jim Sharman
KEY ACTORS: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.4
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 80%

SEX SCORE: 3.5/5
✔️ So Rocky Horror passes the Bechdel Test, but this is another example where it can be argued that its passing is ‘dubious.’ It does literally pass the binary test, but all the qualifying conversations between named female characters are still about sex…just sex with a woman.
✔️ It is rewatchable. But I’d recommend watching it at the cinema if at all possible – it is so much more fun that way!
✔️ And I do want to fuck the cast. They’re all either very extreme or very normal, but the characters are so horny that they have an undeniable appeal. Also, I love a man in stockings…
❓ Unsure if this really count as inspiring a fantasy as it didn’t get quite as far as a full-blown fantasy, but this film is certainly the first time that I saw a man in heels and stockings look so good and, lets just say, it changed things!
❌ But considering how revolutionary it was at the time it was released and how important it has been to queer representation, I don’t think Rocky Horror is sex positive. Frank is too predatory; Rocky is too exploited; Janet is not a slut. It’s wonderful but its sexual politics haven’t aged so well.

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Dracula

YEAR: 1992
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
KEY ACTORS: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Anthony Hopkins, Sadie Frost
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 7.4
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 73%

SEX SCORE: 1/5
✔️ This passes the Bechdel Test as Lucy and Mina talk about other topics than men…but really not often!
❌ But it’s not rewatchable. It’s too ridiculous and I don’t get it.
❌ I don’t want to fuck the cast – I love Keanu Reeves but his accent is too terrible and Gary Oldman, well, just no.
❌ And it’s not sex positive. In fact, its incredibly sex negative, particularly regarding women. Independent women with a free sexual spirit are punished – and deserve it!
❌ There’s also nothing to fantasise about. The idea of a man who has waited across time for you may be an old fashioned romantic ideal, but it felt really non-consensual here and unwanted.

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What women want

YEAR: 2001
DIRECTOR: Nancy Meyers
KEY ACTORS: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei
CERTIFICATE: 12
IMDB SCORE: 6.4/10
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 54%

SEX SCORE: 1/5
Not sex positive – I suspect this was supposed to be sex positive – or at least vaguely feminist – but it hasn’t aged well at all and the male gaze is too infuriating for it to count.
I don’t particularly want to watch this again – I fear that it will only age further…
It didn’t inspire any fantasies – it’s more of a romance than a sexual film, but it’s certainly not a romantic trope that I’d like to be involved in: misogynist undermines professional woman, almost destroying her career, and yet she falls in love with him anyway!?
I don’t want to fuck Mel Gibson. Helen Hunt, maybe, but not enough for a point…
✔️ Somehow this does pass the Bechdel test, but I’m giving the mark very begrudgingly – women talk to each other about something other than men but they rarely both have names and are almost always interrupted by men. Urgh.

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Fifty Shades of Grey

YEAR: 2015
DIRECTOR: Sam Taylor-Johnson
KEY ACTORS: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 4.1/10
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 25%

SEX SCORE: 1/5

✔️ Passes the Bechdel test – if you can believe it!
Definitely not sex positive – oh my gosh, the shame that is built into this plot! It is so clear that EL James is not a kinkster.
Unfuckable cast – Jamie Dornan is undoubtably hot but Christian is such a knob that I would never want to fuck him. Dakota Johnson’s Ana, maybe, but only if she leaves Christian and discovers her sexuality without his toxic influence.
No fantasies – see above.
Unwatchable – I’ll listen to the soundtrack. I don’t need to see this again and I’m not rushing to see the sequels.

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