TSL‘s film and sex columnists, Daniel Brown PO ’15 and C. Frisky, talked this week about sex and its role and portrayal in films. They compiled the highlights of their conversation and have shared them here, touching on different techniques for depicting sex, the distinction between art and porn, and different films which successfully incorporated sex.
C. Frisky: As many films aim to depict the human experience as accurately as possible, I think that involving sex, to a degree, is necessary. Sexual interaction can convey so much in real life that dialogue and body language cannot, so representing this unique form of communication in some way is important, though it does not have to be explicit. A scene that shows a couple making their way to the bedroom, or waking up next to each other, is sometimes all that is needed. Conveying the subtleties of a personal sexual interaction could be possible without being incredibly graphic on screen, which is where I think the problem often lies. My simple answer to the question of whether or not sex is necessary in film is that it depends on the situation that the filmmaker is attempting to depict. If the storyline is centered on the romantic or physical chemistry between two characters, featuring a sex scene that can further the plot and give insight into the characters is important, but sex scenes for the sake of having sex scenes are often unnecessary, inaccurate interpretations.
Dan Brown: I see what you mean and I agree with you for the most part, but I think it may be even more complicated than that. Like you said, sex scenes give us great insight into character and relationships, but they also can contain thematic information that is independent of this. Sometimes even sex scenes that seem out of place or contain inaccurate depictions of intimacy are redeemed due to the artistic points that they further. Take, for instance, the Darren Aronofsky movie Black Swan and the controversial sex scene between Mila Kunis’ and Natalie Portman’s characters.
Without question, it’s tainted with the male gaze and the heterosexual male fantasy view of lesbian sex. Many people argue that the scene should not have been in the film. But even ignoring the fact that the scene marks a very important moment in Portman’s character’s development, it’s integral to many of the film’s themes. There is, for instance, a great obsession with the body in Black Swan, which is most clearly on display in the memorable ‘body horror’ imagery (fingernail, anyone?) and the depictions of strain put on these ballerinas’ bodies. That sex scene masterfully mixes the twisting, bending pains of the body with its pleasures. I don’t mean to be mitigating the problems in the scene, but I personally feel like its artistic merits earn its keep, and that it wold not be considered porn. Do you agree? Where do you think art ends and porn begins?
CF: The definition of art is very subjective, but for me art is something that is created as a representation of the artist themselves, or to elicit an emotional response from the intended audience. Porn, generally, is created to elicit a physical response in its viewers. I know that some porn companies, such as X-Art, have attempted to cross the line between art and sex by making their ‘films’ about couples rather than people with no identity or perceived character. But the difference between the sex in X-Art and the sex in movies is that, in movies, the sex elicits emotion because the viewer feels as if they know the characters.
DB: How does the colloquial definition of porn go? “Porn is anything that you totally lose interest in after cumming.” There’s an entire genre of ‘reality’ porn that creates absurd scenarios to justify sex, and the only resolution is that the guy cums and maybe there’s some pithy joke. It’s funny to run those videos through The Graduate ending: Imagine the camera focusing on these characters for another 30 seconds of silence with just their faces reading, “Well, um, where do we go from here?”
CF: The thought of that is really funny—mostly because nothing in porn is without intention to turn you on, and those moments of insecurity about what to do after the sex part is over (do we cuddle? should I leave?) is definitely my least favorite part. Another reason why the sex depicted in porn is unrealistic is that it’s completely non-personal. Sure, both parties are naked and interacting with each other’s perfectly groomed genitals, but the subtle and awkward moments that occur in real life aren’t present. I appreciate it when movie sex scenes highlight this sort of thing. The To Do List starring Aubrey Plaza, for example, does a great job in making sex funny, and it is even difficult to watch in some parts because the actors do such a good job conveying the awkwardness of the situations in which they find themselves. While many films will glamorize sex, the messier aspects are depicted in this movie, which is exemplified when Plaza’s character finds herself with a handful, and later on mouthful, of semen for the first time.
DB: That’s perfect! I do really admire movies that manage to capture the silliness and playfulness of sex. And, I mean, sex really is play; it’s like the wrestling that you see animals and little kids doing all the time. Actually, if you’ve ever seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that movie makes this connection exactly. There is this odd little game that the couple plays where one of them pretends to smother the other one with a pillow, and then the ‘victim’ plays dead. It’s presented at first as a part of their foreplay, but is recalled later when the two have temporarily become children in the mind of Jim Carrey’s character. That is a perfect representation of romantic and realistic sex in my opinion.
CF: I really liked that about the film—incorporating more personal aspects made it believable and highlighted that the sexy aspect of relationships can definitely be achieved without showing graphic sex, which again is where the difference lies sometimes between porn and film. I’m glad we had this chance to talk!
DB: Same here! I’ll make sure to watch The To Do List over break.