Director and provocateur 's latest movie, Nymphomaniac: Volume I, is about a woman who recounts her sexual history with a man who saves her after she's found bloody and bruised in an alley. The original marketing ploy, aside from the synopsis and title, was that former Disney and Transformers A-Lister would have un-simulated sex scenes with other actors. La Beouf fueled the fired by explaining he got the part after sending the director his personal sex tapes. It straddled the line between news for film snobs and porn enthusiasts, meaning a lot of people quickly became interested in what this was all about.
Von Trier is no stranger to such controversy. His 2009 film Antichrist had brutal sex scenes and genital mutilation between a husband and wife played by and , however adult performers took over the roles when actual penetration was shown. Likewise, the latest poster for Nymphomaniac made the choice to feature typography resembling a minimalist vagina. The hype machine of well known actors putting themselves in potentially exploitive situations felt and like history repeating itself. Everything was going according to schedule. And then things got weird.
Just when it couldn't get more salacious or gimmicky, producer Louise Vesth told The Hollywood Reporter at this year's Cannes Film Festival that while the film will feature real sex, it won't be between main cast members like LaBeouf, Gainsbourg, , and . Instead BUF, a digital effects company that's worked on film's like Life of Pi and Glee: the 3D Concert Movie, will put the lower halves of pornographic actors onto the stars, creating a believable scene without having to cut to close-ups like Antichrist. Vesth explains, "We shot the actors pretending to have sex and then had the body doubles, who really did have sex, and in post we will digital-impose the two. So above the waist it will be the star and below the waist it will be the doubles."
It hasn't been announced whether this digitally-imposed, uncut version will be released in arthouse theaters, get a wider release, or reflect the new film economy by simply showing up on demand and in your iTunes store. However, if this film is a success, it could fundamentally change the current way we treat sex in film and how we get mature content to adult audiences.
It's a cliché to say that sex sells, but it's also impossible to deny that Hollywood has gone completely impotent. Vincent Bruzzese, a film research expert at a firm called Ipsos that analyzes Hollywood scripts, claims that execs and producers are no longer looking for scenes with explicit content or a casual, beloved boob shot. "Sex scenes used to be written, no matter the plot, to spice up a trailer," he says. "But all that does today is get a film an adult-only rating and lose a younger audience."
What's ironic about all of this is that stars like Game of Thrones' Nathalie Emmanuel have been forced to defend TV's use of sex and sexuality. We previously talked about how she defended the show saying, "Sex is what we do as humans. It’s not anything alien, it’s just real." She even went on to say that it's something that the show does particularly well. Sex exposition is partially why people tune in.
However, movies that use sex as a plot point have financially done worse and worse over time. Here's a graph where I've handpicked a variety of movies that use sex as a plot point and how well they've done at the box office:
Granted, these movies had a variety of budgets, reviews, as well as wide and limited releases, but the trend of movies dealing with sex making less and less money at the theater over time is true. Whereas Hollywood was slightly subversive between the time the Hays Codes were dismantled and before the MPAA's grip really tightened (just look at the filmography of the 1970s to see subversive, political, engaging, sexual work), the fact of the matter is that the last movie to dominate the box office with a sex scene and nudity was Titanic in 1997.
Aside from this contributing to the old, silly stereotype that comic fans are virgins (I don't care what you say, X-Men: Days Of Future Past still looks awesome), it shows that the movies - while a fun place to escape - are a family affair and the only time that sex is brought up is when it's something as risque as Nymphomaniac. And even that's only because of the attention seeking that comes with LaBeouf dropping trou. With rising ticket prices, forced 3D, and only superhero movies and YA adaptations in sight, it really makes me wonder if this film implosion that was talking about will happen sooner than we thought because it's nice to be treated like an adult in the privacy of my own home while I watch Showtime or HBO.