Horniness and COVID-19: Cinematic Offerings

Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets. — Andy Warhol

The biology of anxiety and fear is characterized by an increased response to arousal. A sudden release of adrenaline triggers an abnormal excitation of the nervous system —the pulse rises, senses sharpen; a secretion of hormones ruptures the link to normalcy. The body, catapulted quite unexpectedly into a state of distress, gives way to multifarious responses, most borne out of pure feeling, thoughtless reaction. But when the commonly perfect rhythms of the body are interrupted by stress, the mind scrambles for answers searching for possible perpetrators. The mind, however, is often wrong. The result can be a state of physiological confusion known as misattribution of arousal, where people misidentify the cause of their heightened physical state.

During the past few weeks, we’ve watched with rapt attention as the world-wide encroachment of COVID-19 turned from a distant possibility to an inevitable disaster. The governments’ responses have been far too leisurely and mistakenly reliant on false information. But as the reality of the virus’ sprawl and repercussions materialize, fear and anxiety multiply in the face of rapid change. In the span of days, the shape of our reality has changed. To delay the spread of the virus most of us will be stuck inside our homes for weeks while the world seems to find new ways to fall apart and our anxieties grow new limbs.

All this excess adrenaline is bound to be confused at some point, perhaps because our minds are not as good at drawing logical connections as we think, or because the most natural reaction of an uneasy body is to seek a return to comfort. I can’t say, but if scrolling through Twitter these past few days has shown me anything it’s that coronavirus has made people horny — or, at least, convince them of their horniness. As researchers Dutton and Aron have proven, this phenomenon is not uncommon.

While it becomes increasingly more impossible to dig ourselves out of this bizarre temporal wormhole, and there’s nothing we can do on our own aside from the obvious (panic, cry, masturbate, but sadly), I propose that we allow ourselves to luxuriate in the simple pleasure of experiencing unbridled horniness, with the help of movies.

If you don’t live with your partner or don’t have a partner and are practicing social distancing, there’s a considerable possibility that you’re going to be horny at some point. And while media theorists allege that “viewing sexual material increases, not decreases, sexual arousal,” I have poor reading comprehension, so it doesn’t matter.

We are horny and we’re going to be horny, so we might as well push that glorious energy to its limits, revel in its creative dynamism for as long as we can.

In no particular order, here are some films that rejoice — or at least want to rejoice — in their horniness:

1. Body Double dir. by Brian De Palma

They wanna see suspense, they wanna see terror, they wanna see SEX — I’m the person for the job. — Brian de Palma

Brian De Palma’s 1984 erotic thriller leans into Hitchcockian pornographic subtext and makes it visual. Silly, sexy, gloriously De Palma, the sum of its parts coalesce to make a watch of sleazy fun.

2. Crash dir. by David Cronenberg

J.G. Ballard, author of the book that inspired Cronenberg’s film, says it all better than I could ever hope to:

“A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing).”

3. Secretary dir. by Steven Shainberg

I watched Secretary for the first time last month because I couldn’t pick one of the thousands of films I had on my watchlist. This one, not on my watchlist, was available on Hulu and seemed passable. It was more than that. Very rarely do you see a film that approaches S&M and makes it, at least, moderately sexy. Secretary is in love with horniness, how it gives shape to our worldview, and the joy of finding someone who understands it and you. Surprisingly endearing and tender, amidst all the spanking.

4. sex, lies, and videotape

Most of the main characters in this film resent horniness, but deep inside their repressed hearts they desperately want to have sex, and that’s all that counts. Though there’s barely any nudity, Soderbergh’s 1989 debut manages to be provocative. When I think about it, I recall a line from Amy Taubin’s Criterion essay: “I’ve never seen — before or since — skin that alive in a movie.”

5. The Handmaiden dir. by Park Chan-wook

A masterful erotic thriller that somehow manages to balance its surprises and constant push and pull of information with a genuine love for its main characters. Precise, daring and really, really horny.

6. The Hunger dir. by Tony Scott

Where The Hunger fails as a vampire movie, it succeeds through the sheer power of unrestrained horniness it delights in. It works, mostly, as an exercise in style and atmosphere, but other vampire movies don’t have Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon and David Bowie, so make of that what you will.

7. Bound dir. by the Wachowski sisters

There is more raw sexual energy in the first 10 minutes of this movie than in almost anything else that has, in my limited watching experience, ever been made since. Like most on this list, it’s much more than a sexy movie, but you’d also find it difficult to concentrate if Gina Gershon was fixing your pipes.

8. Phantom Thread dir. by Paul Thomas Anderson

There’s no sex in this movie, but every moment in it is embedded with a sense of possibility, a building momentum that promises something even better than sex. If, for some reason, you haven’t watched it I don’t want to give anything away, but you’ll probably be into it if you’d like to see Daniel Day-Lewis be a little helpless.

9. The Doom Generation dir. by Gregg Araki

Gregg Araki’s “heterosexual” film drips with style and oozes with the sensationalist, over-the-top sex and personality more recent LGBTQ+ films desperately lack. This quintessential 90’s road movie kicks off when Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech) interrupts a couple’s — Amy (Rose McGowan) and Jordan (James Duval) — aimless wandering and pushes them down a path of sexual exploration not unlike the first half of Pasolini’s Teorema.

10. In the Cut dir. by Jane Campion

Lovely Amazon reviewer Stephanie wrote this in its honor, and I think it’s all the endorsement you need: “I thought I was watching a crime movie and instead it was apparently an art film. An art film full of sex-obsessed people, long and odd silences, and people just disappearing from the narrative. I maybe made it forty minutes in, and finally gave up.”

Honorable mentions:

  • Y tu mamá también dir. by Alfonso Cuarón
  • Eyes Wide Shut dir. by Stanley Kubrick
  • Body Heat dir. by Lawrence Kasdan
  • Mulholland Dr. dir. by David Lynch
  • Belle de Jour dir. by Luis Buñuel
  • Raw dir. by Julia Ducournau
  • Stranger by the Lake dir. by Alain Guiraudie
  • Desert Hearts dir. by Donna Deitch

Note: These films in no way comprise the horny canon in its totality. I am but a humble beginner. This list is solely representative of my taste and the fact that I did not want to write a blurb for more than 10 movies. Horniness has its limits but laziness does not.

perpetual emotion machine in arrested development. probably thinking about movies and nathan fielder.

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