Eroticism in Motion: A Countdown of Intimate Encounters in Cinema
By Brittany Alyse
“I hope I can make a movie that people can hum on the way out of the theater. Not the music, but the movie. That you can hum about sex, about love, about life, about empathy.”
- Guillermo Del Toro
Sometimes I think a good love scene can enrich a story to its fullest potential. Maybe because it’s entirely satisfying to see lovers come together (pun intended?) in a unique and emotional experience. Growing up, I can remember certain scenes from films that weren’t necessarily love-making, but were passionate and brimming with love. Like that scene in Return of the Jedi (1983) when Han Solo is freed from carbonate from a mysterious masked figure. Temporarily blind from his sleep, he has no idea who has freed him. The mask comes off and Princess Leia is revealed, her hair tousled and her voice, clear and serene all at once, she tells him he is rescued by, “someone who loves you.” Or that moment in Notorious (1946), where Alicia, weak from being poisoned, relishes in Devlin’s admittance of love, wraps herself up in him, and pleads for him to keep saying he loves her, if only to keep her awake. Or in The Lost Boys (1987), where a confused Michael returns to the boys’ lair in search of Star, and is comforted by her love and embrace as “Cry Little Sister” plays softly in the background.
It’s the power of these moments, and so much more.
I conjured up a list, unranked, of a few of my all-time favorite intimate encounters in film.
KISS OF THE DAMNED (2012)
Written & Directed by: Xan Cassavetes
“I would have done anything to be with you. However insane.”
This film is elegance with a bite. A lush world highly influenced by cinema from the 1970s, filled with characters who are both sinister and erotic. The heart of this film is the love story of Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) and Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia). From even their first encounter, there’s passion written all over it. Djuna and Paolo meet in a video rental store, both drawn to classic cinema. Their attraction is undeniable, but Djuna can’t let herself give into Paolo’s advances. She’s a recluse. She’s also a vampire, and she’s dangerous. But it’s hard to stay away from someone you desire.
Unable to hide her truth from him any longer, Djuna tells Paolo she’s a vampire, and how knowing about her comes with a price. But Paolo has already given himself over to that, and her. Djuna has Paolo tie her to the bed, chains and all. The kink factor is high in this scene, but it’s all got reason. Djuna wants to show Paolo the beast within her and the chains are all precautionary to his safety. Like an animal clawing to get out, Djuna beings her transformation, thrashing on the bed, tugging at her chains. The encounter becomes heady and untamed with Djuna atop Paolo, writhing in pleasure. The heat of the moment overstimulates Djuna as her fangs sink into Paolo’s neck, and he lets the bite happen without protest. He not only gives himself over to her, but her vampirism, too. It’s not the only sexual encounter in the film, and honestly the others are just as good, but this one has left a lasting impression on me.
Written by: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
“You’re the only man that’s ever touched me. You’re the only one.”
There is no time or universe in which I am not consumed with feeling about this film. It’s a perfect story told with such poetic sensitivity that I sometimes feel so fragile while watching it. We see Chiron struggle in so many stages of his life, with his mother, bullies at school and his sexuality. But he is very self-aware, even at a young age, about what he likes. And he likes Kevin.
In Chapter II of the film, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) are teenagers. Chiron, grappling with his mother’s addiction and school bullies, takes solace in Kevin and his kindness. Kevin takes Chiron to the beach and it’s just the two of them. The rest of the world doesn’t exist. They talk about their emotions, reasons why they cry. There’s not a drop of hyper-masculinity. It’s just raw, human connection and tenderness between two young men. Kevin initiates the first move, tilting his head slowly toward Chiron, and Chiron gives in. We know it’s Chiron’s first kiss with another male, and we don’t know the case with Kevin, but it’s almost insinuated that this isn’t a first time thing for him. There’s a sensual serenity about the way Kevin leans in and presses his forehead against Chiron’s, his fingers touching the nape of his neck as he goes in for another kiss, and then his hand goes for Chiron’s belt buckle.
There is no judgement between Chiron and Kevin. It’s just them, that beach, their lips, and Kevin’s hand giving Chiron the pleasure and love he desperately needs.
LUST, CAUTION (2007)
Written by: James Schamus & Hui-Ling Wang
Directed by: Ang Lee
“What trap are you talking about? My body? What do you take him for? He knows better than you how to put on an act. He not only gets inside me. He worms his way into my heart like a snake. Deeper. All the way in. I take him in like a slave. I play my part faithfully so I, too, can get to his heart.”
There has been much debate on whether or not the sex scenes in Ang Lee’s haunting espionage drama are real or not. But for me, that doesn’t really make a difference. From the first time I saw the film, up until my latest rewatch, those intimate scenes still cast a spell on me. Mainly because of how visually arresting they are.
We follow the journey of a young woman, Wong Chia Chi (Wei Tang), as she takes on a dangerous mission of getting close to a prominent Chinese official and suspected war traitor, Mr. Yee (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung.) She must get close to him so she can kill him. Wong is beautiful, smart, and careful, and it doesn’t take long for Yee to notice her. The two quickly form a sexual relationship that is doomed from the start. Their first encounter is uncomfortably violent, all hair pulling and clothes being ripped off. By the end of it, Yee is still distant and Wong is curled on the bed, her lipstick smudged, smiling. Each sex scene after this one is dominated with a strange passion, with Yee succumbing to Wong’s charm, and Wong asserting her dominance.
I salute Ang Lee for those daring shots of them entangled, engorging themselves on each other. It’s something that can’t really be described, it begs to be seen. This twisted tale of forbidden love is charged with sensuality that is as beautiful as it is dangerous.
PRINCESS CYD (2017)
Written & Directed by: Stephen Cone
“It is not a handicap to have one thing, but not another. To be one way, and not another. We are different shapes and ways, and our happiness is unique. There are no rules of balance.”
Last year for Vol. I Issue IV, I reviewed Princess Cyd and touched on this scene very briefly, but I couldn’t leave it out of this list. Throughout the film, Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is extremely open about her sexual curiosity. She talks about her sex life with her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence), then asks Miranda bluntly if she regularly has sex. Cyd has no boundaries when it comes to sex talk, or sexual preference. She likes everything. She likes her sort-of-boyfriend back home, she likes Miranda’s gardener. She also really, really likes the cute barista with a mohawk, Katie (Malic White.)
Cyd and Katie form a lovely, flowering bond that heightens their attraction to each other within moments of their first official hang out. They take walks underneath the glistening sunlight. They slow dance on a rooftop. Cyd rescues Katie from an almost sexual assault. They become close, and clearly care about each other. After spending the day at the beach, Katie and Cyd venture off into the bedroom Cyd is occupying at Miranda’s house. Katie kisses Cyd’s back. The moment is so sweet, so tender, with close-up shots of skin, lips and facial expressions. Cyd’s breathy moans fill the tiny bedroom, and then quickly the sounds of Cyd and Katie’s lovemaking flutter throughout the house, and Miranda gets an earful. She smiles in delight, as if she’s been let in on a most wonderful secret. Then takes out her headphones, to give them privacy.
AMERICAN HONEY (2016)
Written & Directed by: Andrea Arnold
“So you’re a southern girl. A real American honey like me.”
It’s hard to believe that this film is Sasha Lane’s debut as an actress. Andrea Arnold explores Star’s ever-changing world through a rebellious, almost meditative lens.
Star (Sasha Lane) and Jake (Shia LaBeouf) seem to be drawn together like magnets, sparking an immediate connection between them as they roam from city to city with a band of traveling misfits with their door-to-door magazine selling. These kids play loud music, take too many drugs and have seemingly all cut themselves off from their parents. As she works her way through this unfamiliar territory, Star attaches herself to Jake. Their playful, silly bond migrates into romantic territory at a naturalistic pace. But neither of them are ready for it. Jake belongs to no one, and Star has dreams of being shacked up with Jake somewhere and having lots of kids together. Sadly, they do not see eye-to-eye on these things. But they are continuously drawn to each other, to the point where they’re almost too possessive.
There are a few lush lovemaking scenes between Jake and Star, but my favorite is their first time. It starts with them down in the grass. They fuck each other in a flustering fervor. It’s the kind of love scene that feels primal in nature, bathed in the warmth of sunlight. Ardent in its portrayal of genuine lust, it’s the kind of heat-of-the-moment that could make any viewer weak in the knees.
PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (2017)
Written & Directed by: Angela Robinson
“Do you think it’s possible to love two people at the same time?”
This underrated film is one of my favorites of all time, which is no mean feat. Angela Robinson did something so incredible and wonderful when she made this movie. Angela took what little information there is available about the Marston's private life and let fantasy take over when she wrote the script. A lot of what's in the movie is speculation. A lot of it is true. It's a biopic that, like most of them, is not 100% historically accurate. Angela let her imagination run the story. I admire that. If anything, this movie made me want to seek out the book that inspired her to write her own interpretation of Olive and the Marstons in the first place. It must be a tricky thing to do justice to real people's lives, especially when the truth of it all is so hard to come by. I'm so pleased with what Angela did, blending fiction with reality.
The love between Elizabeth Marston (Rebecca Hall), William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) is an organic kind that builds, that leaves you longing just as powerfully as the characters are. You root for them, relish in their rebellion, and, gosh, you want to see them succeed. What's most important about this story is that it showcases a kind of love that so many people still believe to be taboo today. Which is ridiculous. Love is love. And if anything, I hope this film inspires more stories showcasing bisexuality and polyamory, instead of the same old homogenized heterosexual stories we're used to seeing in romantic cinema. Polyamory especially is a topic that's rarely tackled in film, and it's so refreshing to see it represented here so honestly and openly. The major take-away from this movie is love. Purely and simply. The love between these three people. The love Marston had for these women and what came from it: Wonder Woman and what she stands for.
Another aspect to admire is how deeply erotic, but not exploitative, it is. The BDSM aspect of this film is done so tastefully, not at all for the male gaze, but soft. Fun. Playful.
The first encounter between the three of them starts with drama, then unravels into them accepting, embracing and giving into the temptation of each other. Elizabeth, William and Olive consummate their feelings by getting down in the college theater, backstage no less. It begins playfully as the three of them wrap themselves up in costumes. With Nina Simone’s "Feeling Good" playing in the background, the three of them join together in the most breathtakingly cinematic threesome the world has ever seen.
TAKE THIS WALTZ (2011)
Written & Directed by: Sarah Polley
“So then I thought to myself, I need to find out how she works. How every part of her works. And I spent about a week and a half with your body, and I began to learn and know it. Every detail of it. I played with you and figured out how you worked before I entered you. Before I spread your legs and fucked you hard and loved you.”
This scene involves no nudity, no physical intimacy and no kissing. Just the crutch of words and eye contact between two characters, sitting in a cafe in the middle of the day when Margot (Michelle Williams), a married woman, asks her neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby), a beautiful artist, what he would want to do to her. Why? Because they’re attracted to each other. Because a sexual spark burns between and it cannot be contained or ignored any longer.
When I watch this scene, it has the same affect on me that an actual sex scene may have. It’s essentially an intimate dream come true. Phone sex without the phone. Sexting without text messaging. Just face-to-face fantasy talk that shouldn’t be happening, and definitely shouldn’t be happening where it’s happening. But it does happen, because it’s thrilling and alluring and they just can’t help it. Margot sits there in a flushed wonder as Daniel details every sexual desire he has about her, his voice steady and gravel-low. It’s a rush of words that can and will cause sensory overload. At the end of it, we too are giddy, flush and euphoric just like Margot. Her goofy smile says it all: holy shit.
QUEEN OF THE DAMNED (2002)
Written by: Scott Abbott & Michael Petroni
Directed by: Michael Rymer
“We live everywhere and anywhere we choose. The world is our garden.”
Can anyone on this earth listen to “Change (In The House of Flies)” by The Deftones without associating it with the infamous love scene between Aaliyah and Stuart Townsend? Because I can’t.
When an ancient Egyptian vampire, Queen Akasha (Aaliyah), rises from the dead to lure Lestat (Stuart Townsend), an elegant vampire gentleman-turned-brooding rock artist, to her side all hell literally breaks loose. Her sights set on making him her king. The pair’s most enticing scene takes place in a marble bath, filled with water and rose petals. She not only takes his soul (well, whatever is left of that), but his body, too. We see her hand, wet and draped in petals, emerge from the water and snake its way up Lestat’s chest until her fingers wrap delicately around his throat. I thought that part did me in. I thought nothing would get more erotic than that image. But mere seconds later, when Akasha bites Lestat’s nipple and looks up at him, smiling with a mouthful of his blood, ended everything for me. Akasha takes ownership of him in a way only a queen can. What’s not to love about that?
PURPLE RAIN (1984)
Written by: Albert Magnoli & William Blinn
Directed by: Albert Magnoli
“Do you want him? Or do you want me? Cause I want you.”
Last, but certainly not least, is Purple Rain.
When I was three years old, I would watch the now iconic HBO special of Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour over and over and over. It didn’t register to me then that the concert was a highly erotic, sexually charged display of ultimate womanhood. I just liked her music, her bouncy blonde curls and her brash Italian attitude. I thought she was a goddess. It wasn’t until I was eight years old that I saw my very first sex scene on TV, and knew exactly what it meant.
When I watched Purple Rain for the first time, I was at a sleepover. All the other girls had fallen asleep. I, of course, was a night owl. Some things never change. The TV was already on a movie channel and I didn’t know where the remote was, so I just watched. This was my first time experiencing Prince and all his sexually heightened glory. Then Appollonia was introduced, with her incredibly sexy attire and wild hair. I was amazed. Before I knew it, the intimacy between them began. I was aware enough to know what I was seeing and that I wasn't supposed to be seeing it. But I did, anyway. I watched with wondrous eyes as Appollonia (Appollonia Kotero) lets The Kid (Prince) undress her. She wore the most extraordinary red lingerie and his hands explored her with all kinds of lust. I was transfixed. They were both so undeniably beautiful together. Prince’s music and that film awakened something in me and I'll never forget that feeling. There will always be a little rebel in me because of it.