Newest in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order. To see other posts in the series, click here.
I could have sworn I left this one behind in the divorce.
I was 15 when 9-1/2 Weeks was released, so I’m old enough to remember the scandalized public reaction to the film. I finally saw it sometime in my 20s, and I didn’t remember much about it – nothing but a few random images and the fact that I was completely skeeved out by it.
Turns out that hasn’t much changed.
Unlike the pearl-clutchers at the time of its release, it wasn’t the sex scenes themselves that bothered me. (Well, except for the food scene. I can’t watch the food scene without my inner monologue shouting, “Stop being so inconsiderate! You have a roommate who’s trying to sleep! And you’re destroying the kitchen! And look at all the food you’re wasting! And shut the damn fridge door already!“)
No, my attitude towards sex – be it movie or real life – has always been one of, “Whatever floats your boat, so long as its consensual.”
And that’s where my problem with 9-1/2 Weeks begins. Because the relationship between Elizabeth (Kim Basinger) and John (Mickey Rourke) is just one abusive event after another. John pulls a dick move (strands Elizabeth atop a Ferris wheel, throws money on the floor for her to crawl and pick up, unexpectedly introduces a third person during a sexual encounter), Elizabeth gets pissed off and beats John about the head and shoulders, and then they fuck. Repeat ad nauseum.
Not once do we see any communication about boundaries or consent or safe words. But in virtually every encounter, we see Elizabeth looking uncomfortable, or scared, or flat-out saying ‘no,’ and John ignoring it and continuing to push, even to the point of sexual assault.
But that’s not what anybody talked about in the ’80s. In the ’80s, it was all about how there was a blindfold and an ice cube.
Speaking of the ’80s, I was a teenager back then, which puts me in a group that’s notorious for misty-eyed nostalgia. While my personal sense of nostalgia isn’t generally very sentimental, I do enjoy seeing the old styles and hearing the old music in movies. So I thought I’d at least get a bit of entertainment in that regard from 9 1/2 Weeks.
What the movie captured, and captured very effectively, was the narcissistic, vacuous attitude of the ‘Me’ decade. It’s not all phone booths, shoulder pads, and those people who’d ‘clean’ your car window at a red light when you didn’t ask them to and then expect to get paid. (God, they were the worst!) It’s also consumerism, it’s shallow, and it’s trivial people being overly dramatic about inane things.
So it’s not exactly surprising that discussion about this movie at that time was awfully superficial. What did kind of surprise me was how it made me think of 50 Shades of Grey.
Full disclosure: I have neither read nor seen 50 Shades, and I have no intention to.
My understanding of 50 Shades is that it shares a lot of the same faults as 9-1/2 Weeks. And while it’s maddening that movies with these same flaws are still being made, I do find it heartening that the discussion around them has changed. Because in all the furor over 50 Shades, I never heard a thing about the sex itself. It was all about lack of consent and unsafe play, and how dangerous that is.
I just wish it hadn’t taken us 30 years to get here, and that we didn’t still have so far to go.