Ever felt your trauma heal itself at the cinema?
Jasmine Garcha (she/they) // Contributor
JJ Eng (they/them) // Illustrator
Out of all the representations of sex onscreen, we can probably agree that many of them are negative or even triggering. Some are just plainly inaccurate or extremely exaggerated (we all saw Sex Education, right?) but some do well depicting certain themes pertaining to sex and relationships.
Something I find interesting is that the worst representations of sex onscreen always tend to be the ones aimed at teenagers; shows like Sex Education, Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why. Although, out of all the things that 13 Reasons Why did wrong, Hannah and Zach’s relationship was something done right. We saw enthusiastic consent from both sides and it began with a conversation. However, this storyline was done retroactively and seemed lazily thrown into the show.
I enjoy relationship and sexuality plots that have been planned and fleshed out throughout a series or film. When each plot line seems intentionally written to tell the larger story, it makes for a better watch. That’s why I loved the film Poor Things, which was based on the Alasdair Gray novel.
I watched Poor Things twice in theatres. It has a great representation of sexual liberation by following Bella Baxter, a woman with the brain of an infant (surgically speaking). Bella has been sheltered her entire life, so along with being mentally immature—because she is quite literally a child in a woman’s body—she is also undersocialized. As she explores and sees the world, she matures and grows in mental age.
The movie depicts how men see women from multiple perspectives. There’s Godwin, who “created” Bella’s developmental handicap through surgery. He has considered her a sexual being, but is impotent so he chooses to take on a father figure role. If he could have sex, would he take advantage of her? It’s not explored, but implications are made.
There’s Max, who knows Bella’s mental age, yet still wishes to marry her. He says he will not lay with her until after marriage… but he still intends to do so. He is a “nice guy” for show.
There’s Duncan, who doesn’t know Bella’s mental age, but senses she is different and takes advantage of this fact. We also see the Madonna-Whore complex take form in Duncan, as he becomes hateful toward Bella the moment he finds out she has slept with somebody else.
The movie even explores women’s internalizations of these outside perspectives. We see this with Madame Swiney, who runs the brothel, when she tries to justify Bella’s discomfort, “Some men enjoy that you don’t like it.” She also implies that a lack of gratification is what makes women whole.
Despite it all, Bella recognizes the importance of her own gratification and individualism. As Bella matures, the film modernizes alongside her; this is shown in the dialogue, the humour, and the film’s change from black and white to colourized upon Bella’s first time having sex. It continues to become more saturated in colour as she learns more about herself, the world around her, and how she, as a woman, is viewed in that world.
Maybe I didn’t write about the steamiest sex scenes I’ve seen, but maybe I just don’t know what sex is. What I do know is that I enjoyed watching Bella gain independence and a sense of self. I enjoyed seeing her decide that her body and mind are hers to nourish. The movie showed a daring representation of how men view sexuality versus how women do.
Also, I do not recommend sneaking rosé spritzers into the theatre to watch Poor Things. That’s not allowed and you can’t do that. Don’t do it.