The Matrix Has You, Post #69: In Which We Read A Movie Review And Discover Why Gratuitous Sex Scenes Are Ridiculous

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to go back to Redlands and hang with the fam. As part of said hanging with fam, three-fourths of the fam (specifically my brother, my dad and I) went to go see the new movie The Illusionist. (Lest anyone stumble into the blunder I committed, this movie should not be confused with The Prestige, which has a similar type of story, coming out later this month. The Illusionist does NOT star Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale or Michael Caine, and was NOT directed by Christopher Nolan. Alas.)

I really enjoyed the movie. The story was very good and deliberately but not slowly paced, the acting was also very good (except for Rufus Sewell as Leopold, which I didn’t care for), the cinematography was excellent and the music (by Phillip Glass; go minimalism) was very fitting, if not entirely to my taste. The surprise twist at the end, in the tradition of a Christopher Nolan or M. Night Shyamalan film, was quite surprising but beautifully understated. Paul Giamatti, in a quite different performance than the last time I saw him (in Shymalan’s Lady In The Water), makes for a great chief inspector torn between respect for Eisenheim the illusionist and loyalty to the corrupt Crown Prince Leopold. Jessica Biel isn’t as attractive as I’d like her to be for the role of the princess, but she serves. And, let’s face it: You’ve just gotta love Edward Norton. As soon as you see him, you start rooting for him. Especially when he’s an awesome magician and dresses in sweet Victorian-era black clothes, complete with gloves, a cape and a hat. If only I was cool enough to dress like that.

However, I felt like it was a good movie that could have been a great movie with better execution. As already mentioned, I wasn’t too impressed with Sewell’s or Biel’s performances. I would also have liked to have seen more tricks because, let’s face it, everybody likes to watch magic tricks. But my main beef with the movie was its inclusion of a gratuitous sex scene between Eisenheim and Sophie (Biel’s princess character) near the beginning (they were childhood friends who reunite after a long separation and discover they still love each other).

Now, apart from the fact that I’m usually against sex scenes in general, this one bugged me on several levels. First of all, due to the moral problems of such things, the scene almost destroyed my respect for Eisenheim’s character, which up until that point had been very high. Secondly, it was a stupid thing for them to do in the context of the story. Sophie is soon to be married to the Crown Prince, who guards her jealously. After the sex scene, Eisenheim suggests that they run away together where the prince could never find them. This is not a smart idea. “Let’s have sex first, and give the secret police a chance to catch us, and THEN try to run away! It’s too boring to run away first (and then possibly get married or something old-fashioned like that) and THEN have sex.”

However, my biggest problem with the sex scene was that it was gratuitous, and thanks to a revelation I had while thinking about this tonight I now realize why. My brother trainly pointed out that the purpose of the scene was to establish that they still loved each other after being separated for so long; but he also noted that there were much better (and less morally wrong) ways to show this in the movie. This prompted my thinking, which was on a slightly more general level.

A quick discussion of aesthetics will suffice to make my point. Within any given work of art, be it a musical composition, a book, a painting, or a film, all of the materials must relate to the structure of the whole in order to create a work of art with integrity. Every note, every phrase, every word, every brushstroke, every character, and every plot point must have a purpose that relates to the whole. This ensures that the work of art will be coherent and unified in regards to its structure, motives and materials. Anything which is extraneous, then—which cannot be shown to have a purpose relating to the overall structure—is unnecessary, and therefore aesthetically bad.

The sex scene in The Illusionist, although it served to advance the plot, could have been done in better ways which render the sex itself unnecessary. Thus, this or any gratuitous sex scene, by the very nature of its gratuitousness, is an aesthetic flaw, and decreases the overall value of the work of art.



Darth_Harbison said...

I didn't think Rufus Sewell was that bad . . . he wasn't Oscar material, but I thought he was okay. I just felt that there wasn't a whole lot he had to work with in the script. Obviously, he could have gone deeper in than the script did and discover cool little things about his character, as he should've and didn't, but it wasn't a bad performance. Although of course Jessica Biel wasn't good, but hey. That's what you have Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti there for (as well as to run lights :-P).

Needless to say, I agree with your assessment of the sex scene.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I greatly agree. So often, the sex scenes are added only to up the rating and draw in a select number of viewers particularly inclined to movies of that certain nature. (Was that PC enough?)

I also completely agree with the thought that their "true love" could be expressed through other forms as well. It is interesting that sex is almost portrayed in Hollywood as the culmination of two people's true love. But the irony exists in that probably 3/4 of the sex scenes produced in Hollywood are between two characters who are not in "true love". (James Bond probably constitues 3/4 of that percentage. And as another side note, I am really excited for this next Bond movie to come out!) While "true love" in the most truthful sense (i.e. the sacrifice of one for another, either through small daily sacrifices or momentous sacrifices such as one's previous lifestyle or actual life)does occur/develop in movies, often in the end they will have sex. We don't ever know if they get married, but hey, they got together right?

I wonder if a movie will ever come out again, besides "A Walk to Remember," that shows the characters loving each other so much that they wait. Hmmm, probably not, but that is my pesimism speaking.

~Elisabeth Bass

Anonymous said...



Rae said...

My responce to gratuitous sex scenes:


Idhrendur said...


It may need a plugin...