film review: the little death
“Whatever happened to good all fashioned, run-of-the-mill sex? People have to complicate it with all this kinky shit.”
Josh Lawson makes his directorial debut with The Little Death, a sitcom-esque movie about a group of couples exploring their sexual desires and kinks. The fetishes are varied and often bizarre, but the characters are believable and most importantly… the women are depicted realistically! YES! This is what mainstream movies are missing – female characters doing and thinking whatever they like no matter how bizarre. Even more delightful, this is a movie about sex that isn’t completely dominated by the male gaze. Hooray!
The Little Death opens with a couple indulging in a more widely accepted fetish – Paul (Josh Lawson) is licking the toes of his girlfriend Maeve (Bojana Novakovic). Her face screws up while she indulges him but unfortunately a giggle escapes because tonguing someone’s toes sometimes leads to mirth. It sets the tone beautifully for a film that shows sex in its many forms – it’s hilarious, awkward, unsexy and odd. As the initial scene progresses, the couple pillow talk and it is revealed that she has a secret rape fantasy. Cue Paul’s horror – how can he reconcile being a loving and respectful boyfriend with pretending to rape his girlfriend? Even if it’s exactly what she wants? Thus the audience has been told in no uncertain terms: anything goes with this film. It’s all coming out, and it will get explored in the most uncomfortable, touching and hilarious ways.
In the bedrooms of the other couples we see Dan (Damon Herriman) and Evie (Kate Mulvany) engage in role play which quickly accelerates to the next level where fantasy and reality are no longer separate; while another pair, Phil (Alan Dukes) and Maureen (Lisa McCune) are in a seemingly loveless marriage, with Phil only able to become aroused by watching his partner in her sleep. Phil struggling with the idea that the person he loves no longer exists – sadly silently. So many of these problems could be resolved with effective communication provided the other party has willingness to not judge and a fervent desire to please their partner.
What I loved about this film was how unapologetic it was. Days later I still don’t know for sure what the director’s opinion on rape fantasies are, because the film was completely non-judgemental. It makes the point that people do not choose their fantasies and they don’t choose the way they are, but how they choose to enact and give life to their fantasies is another thing. It was surprising to me that the most functional and loving of all the couples was Paul and Maeve; here was a man stunned by his partner’s revelation who nonetheless took it upon himself to figure how he could make her happy. Furthermore, she was a woman completely accepting of herself and wanting to be honest with her lover, something people who’ve been married for decades sometimes struggle to do.
The fourth couple, Richard (Patrick Brammel) and Rowena (Kate Box) have the unique problem of Rowena being unable to climax unless her husband is crying. Unlike Maeve and Paul there is no open and honest communication. Rather, Rowena attempts to manipulate and startle her husband into tears. It wasn’t her kink that made her so reprehensible, it was the way her manipulations to make her husband cry got out of control. She didn’t choose to tell him what turned her on so much thus enabling them to have a conversation about how to make that happen (onions?) but subtly and deliberately undermined his happiness. Maybe she feared his judgement, given how under-discussed fetishes and kinks are in mainstream circles? Or maybe after years and years of being directly and subversively socialised to believe that her sexuality should come (no pun intended) second to that of her male lover’s? And given that sexuality is not the kind of thing can be repressed it found a messy, dishonest outlet?
Whatever the case may be the characters, especially the female ones, came across as sympathetic and imperfect. Even if this film doesn’t sound like your cup tea, you should go and see it for the final sequence involving a woman interpreting for a deaf person a Skype call with a phone sex worker. How the director managed to make this filthy exchange romantic I have no idea, but I was very impressed.