At the BBC website last week, Emma Jones spent some time surveying what may be the last film taboo, sex scenes with old people.
As Jones relates, there has been in recent years an uptick in the number of romantic movies about people 60 and older but the sex is only hinted at:
”...there were crowd-pleasers like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet. However, though love might blossom among septuagenarians, the cameras never intruded on any consummation – the message seeming to be that none was possible.
"...comedy is often the way Hollywood deals with older lovers. 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give does actually include a sex scene between the protagonists, played by Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, but the joke is that Nicholson’s character, ordinarily only interested in younger women, has to use Viagra.
"Another comedy, It’s Complicated (2009) keeps the rejuvenated sex life a pair of ex-spouses, played Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, almost entirely off-screen."
What prompted Ms. Jones's rumination on film sex involving elders is a new British movie, 45 Years, which contains an explicit sex scene with the protagonists played by Charlotte Rampling, age 69, and Tom Courtenay, age 78.
”This scene 'is absolutely pivotal to the film,' says [director] Andrew Haigh. 'But it’s been funny watching it in awkward silence at screenings because audiences do think that when Charlotte’s character Kate shuts the bedroom door, that that is the end of it.
“'But no, we carry on. The concept that as we grow older we no longer have sexual feelings is to me, a man of 42 years old, a sad state of affairs.'”
In addition to the film admitting that old people do have sex is that it is not treated as funny or a joke. Jones quotes Wendy Mitchell, contributing editor to the trade daily Screen International on this point.
“'It’s important that the sex scene is realistic, it’s not fake and glossy, it’s Tom Courtenay’s ageing body in his underpants. But it’s not played for laughs, and that’s crucial, because older people having sex shouldn’t be a joke.'”
When the film opens, Kate Mercer (Rampling) is planning a party for their 45th wedding anniversary when a note arrives telling her husband Geoff (Courtenay) that the body of his first love has been discovered, reawakening long-buried memories. Here is a trailer for the film which was released last week but not available anywhere I can view it yet:
Apparently, European countries are slightly more open with sex scenes involving old people than the Brits or Hollywood but not by much and Jones supplies a couple of theories about that:
”Mitchell calls the idea of later-life sex on screen 'a taboo because it’s so rare' and Andrew Haigh has his own theory about why audiences can react with shock, and even disgust.
“'The warped view we have comes from when we are very young, I think, and our first relationships with older people are usually our grandparents. They just, for the most part, don’t ever talk about sex, so I think we just don’t understand the need or desire even existing.'”
I lean more toward Haigh's explanation than Mitchell's. I couldn't watch 45 Years but I did track down a German film that Jones mentions - Cloud 9 from 2009.
It is the story of a 67-year-old married woman, played by Ursula Werner, who rediscovers sexual passion when she falls in love with a 76-year old man, played by Horst Westphal.
Although Roger Ebert had some reservations about the movie in general, he made an important point in his review that I was floundering to identify:
”The director, Andreas Dresen, presents the sex scenes as if they involve two 20-year-olds, as she should.”
Exactly. Even so, I was as uncomfortable watching the bedroom scenes as I am when they are played by 20-somethings. But that's me with my possibly over-developed sensibility of what should be private which does not for a minute mean I think showing people enjoying sex at any age should be taboo in the movies. Quite the opposite.
Nor do I think that this quotation from a woman identified in the BBC story as Clare Binns, a programmer for a theater chain in Britain, has a iota of merit:
“But because seeing this confronts us all with getting older, my educated guess is that even older viewers prefer to watch a sex scene with younger people in it – it makes them forget that they’re not young anymore.”
Here is a German-language trailer that gives a small sense of one of the sex scenes in Cloud 9:
The English language trailer is much more modest. You can see it here.
I'm eager to read your reactions, dear readers.