Sex, Lies and Videotape

There's a scene in Rushmore that I think about a lot where young Max Fischer tells the teacher he has a crush on that he doesn't like it when people talk about sex crudely, and she tells him that he only thinks that because he's never had sex before. The debate that the two of them end up having really gets at something essential about carnality: on the one hand, making love can be this completely emotional thing that people do as an expression of their deepest desires and needs and that's romantic, but on the other hand fucking can be a purely physical thing that total strangers do with each other simply for fun. This heartbroken woman has to break this total romantic's heart for his own good, and her cynicism is both tragic and totally right.

Sex, Lies and Videotape takes that dialogue and multiplies it. The four main characters in this movie occupy basically every position on the x axis of physicality and the y axis of emotionality. You've got a house wife who is emotionally vulnerable but physically closed off; her husband who is emotionally distant and full of lust; her sister, who is comfortable in her own body but unsure of what she wants; and his old college friend who can't really interact with people properly but seems to have accepted that on some level. Between the four of them you have most of the major permutations of physical / mental comfortability / neediness.

The plot puts them through their paces, testing them to see how much they can be honest with themselves, how much they can be honest with those they are intimate with, how much they can be honest with a total stranger. It explores how satisfied they can be living lives where there's only fucking or only making love or no sex at all. It asks how open do you have to be to get something worthwhile out of life and how much do you have to protect yourself if you don't want to live your life as an exposed nerve. In every case the movie suggests that there is no perfect answer, that being alone, being together, and being intimate are always going to be complicated.

Don't get me wrong: these characters come across as real vulnerable people, not hypothetical positions on the Kinsey scale. I'm only talking about Sex, Lies and Videotape with this level of remove because I want to make it clear that this is not a drama where the question is "which of these characters are going to fuck?" as much as it is a drama that asks "which of these characters is going to be satisfied if they fuck?" There's a big difference between those things because one of them is pure voyeurism and the other is voyeurism that implicates the voyeur. Even if the videocamera conceit didn't challenge the home viewer with the same problems that the people who are watching the tapes in the movie are facing the existential questions would still follow you home. I don't have to worry about whether or not I'll ever have sex with these fictional people, but I still have to ask myself if I'm satisfied with the choices I've made in my life.

One of the reasons why I think about that Rushmore scene so often is because it reminds me not to be naive about about sexuality, and to keep in mind that sex is always going to be messy and tense in some way. One reason why I really like Sex, Lies and Videotape is that it's a good reminder that being messy and tense is not always a bad thing; if you want something human, in fact, it might be exactly what you're looking for.

Winner: Me

Sex, Lies and Videotape on IMDB