Written by: Letty Muse Tomlinson, Special to CC2K
CC2K's Letty Tomlinson doesn't like sex or violence onscreen. Except when Clive Owen's involved, of course. Here's her story.
I’m pretty sure Pan’s Labyrinth was a great movie. The 70 percent of it I actually saw was certainly stirring. The other 30% of the movie I missed because I either had my hands over my eyes or my head turned away during brutal or bloody scenes, eyes fixed on a friend until he said it was safe to look. I’m sure the love scene in The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love was nice. Can’t say for certain, though, because as I recall I averted my eyes and generally sought refuge in my “happy place” far from their bedroom door.
My stomach for sex or violence in film is relatively weak. The more graphically the violence or sex is depicted, the less appealing I generally find the action. Seeing people suffer breaks my heart, even when I know they’re characters with no real families mourning their passing. Seeing people have sex is just embarrassing, even though I know the actors are faking it and are themselves uncomfortable under the lights and camera. I suspect that most gratuitous movie violence exists to satisfy revenge fantasies. But even when the villain is particularly wicked, I’m satisfied to know he or she is felled; I don’t need to see the head of the offended removed from his body. Similarly, movie sex is meant to tease our sexual fantasies. But even if the actors are piping hot, it’s enough for me to see the initial advances of foreplay and then a cut to the morning after. Watching every undulation and hearing every moan leaves me feeling like an uneasy voyeur during an essentially private moment. It’s that same awkwardness I feel when I’m in a public restroom stall next to someone whose bowel expulsion is particularly sonorous and odorous. Typically, unless the depicted violence or sex moves the plot along or reveals some critical aspect of a character or relationship (as in Conversation With Other Women, say), I hurt a little inside or squirm uneasily.
Despite all this, I actually have a favorite film sex scene. And my aversion to violence, as well as graphic sex makes my choice seemingly counterintuitive. I adore the romp Clive Owen and Monica Bellucci take in the action flick, Shoot ‘Em Up.
Shoot ‘Em Up is a mostly forgettable 2007 action movie that was released in September, the month studios off-load their mostly forgettable films. The movie opens with Smith (Clive Owen) delivering a baby in the midst of a shoot-out. Smith is such a badass that not only does he coach the mother through delivery, he snipes off multiple assailants and even kills one with a carrot. Yes, a carrot. Smith is a murderous god. The newborn’s mother, who was being chased by a baddie, dies shortly after childbirth, whether by a bullet or by post-natal complications is beyond my recollection and beyond the pertinence to the plot. Smith makes it his mission to protect the baby, named Oliver, from the endless supply of black-clad, sloppy shooting, infanticidal mercenaries; and to discover what bloodthirsty bastard is charging the goons with the task and why. He employs the help of Donna (Monica Bellucci) a lactating prostitute working at a theme-room brothel to look after and feed Oliver. (Can you guess the fetishists she attracts?) Along the way, Smith dispatches bad guys left and right using countless bullets and various execution methods that would make any citizen not named Dick Cheney cringe if they were applied in real life against real people.
Donna and Smith have had a bad day, and seek refuge with Baby Oliver in sketchy hotel room. Smith has just put the baby down for a nap in an empty bathtub. Donna leans against the doorframe of the bathroom, a jar of something edible (her milk, maybe) in one hand and earnestly asks, “Are you hungry?” She lifts a finger to her mouth to suck off the flavor of the jar’s contents. Is Smith hungry? Like a wolf! Smith moves to her, and being the generous woman that she is, she offers him her finger to suck. Which he does. Intently. In cold silhouette. With the crescendo of aggressive guitar underscoring the action. They kiss gently and repeatedly as he tenderly relieves her of her most-certainly constricting corset top. Ever chivalrous, Smith glides his hand up her thigh, under her tight leather miniskirt and proceeds to liberate her from constraints of her lacy thong, sliding it down her legs, all the while maintaining eye contact with Donna. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have to focus on the clothing being removed while I’m removing it—whether it’s mine or someone else’s. Sustained eye contact, during such a feat would be a pipe dream and a brazen act of hubris against gravity, my arch nemesis. But what may be a pipe dream for the rest of us (or me) is rote behavior for Smith. Next we cut to them on the bed. Donna is on top, still wearing her leather skirt, but Smith is naked. Lying just inches from his head is his handgun. Donna writhes above Smith, moaning in ecstasy and Smith seems focused on delivering satisfaction. Here’s where it gets fun.
A baddie positions himself outside their open window. Donna starts to climax. Baby Oliver cries from the tub. Another baddie cracks the hotel room door open and aims his high-powered gun at the conjoined hotties. What’s easier than shooting fish in a barrel? How about shooting a copulating couple? The bullets begin to fly. Smith rolls with Donna off the bed and onto the floor. Any other couple in this situation would break apart and take cover immediately. Not these two. Smith manages to keep banging away at Donna while banging away at their assailants. Not just from the floor. Nope. He’s such a stud he manages to stand in the middle of the room, balancing Donna and rotating 360 degrees to fatally shoot numerous attackers. He knows the job’s not over though, and moves Donna against the wall to complete his primary mission. Just as she orgasms, Smith moves her over an inch, to narrowly avoid a bullet. He then turns his gun on the attacker and makes quick work of him. “Talk about shooting your load,” he quips, with no trace of self-amusement.
So why do I, admitted reluctant consumer of cinema sex and violence love this scene so much? Why does this scene, which does nothing to progress the plot or reveal any deeper understanding of these characters or their relationship, get special dispensation? Two reasons: 1) it is in keeping with the ridiculous, bloody mayhem that defines the rest of movie; and 2) that scene appeals to the basest female desires: cavewoman fantasies.
To the first point, it’s hard to be feel awkward or put off when it’s clear that the sex is so wildly unattainable. It’s the second point that I’m most interested in exploring.
To begin with, Smith has taken it upon himself to protect an orphaned infant. Aww! Is there anything much hotter than a man who cares for a child? A man who accessorizes with his nieces or nephews—or a puppy—will find he is, at least momentarily, a chick magnet. An average guy climbs to four-star territory in the eyes of most women when he’s seen entertaining a baby. Make that guy Clive Owen and the stratosphere of sexiness has been punctured. It’s no accident that the seduction begins with him putting the baby down for bed. Clive Owen plus infant sleep time ritual equals “do me!”
Further, Smith and Donna’s sex is really all about her. She’s on top—a typically female-friendly position—and from the looks and sounds of it, it’s more her ride than his. When the gunmen begin attacking them, Smith doesn’t stop the sex. Not only is he man enough to continue grinding under assault, but he can deflect, defend and counter-assault. He multi-tasks, for her sake: protecting and defending her while fully sating her desire. What man-loving woman wouldn’t want a man like that? Not this one!
On the surface, Shoot ‘Em Up is exactly the kind of movie I should hate most. It’s nothing but violence from top to bottom. Heck, the title alone should turn me off. But it doesn’t take itself seriously. It is a dry parody of every action-adventure movie whose sole purpose is to leave as high a body count as possible. The violence is over the top and Smith is freakishly indestructible and uncannily clever. So the sex has got to defy human capabilities as well. And because it does, I can watch with wide-open eyes and not squirm at all. Unless it’s that I’m squirming with excitement. Luscious, bullet-dodging, sexy excitement.