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8 Movies You Need To See To Really Understand What BDSM Is About

21 de diciembre de 2017

María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

There's way much more beyond whips, leather, and handcuffs.

Movies that deal with anything related to sex can be both appealing and controversial. As you can guess by the title, BDSM doesn’t make it that easier. We have to talk about this because of the whole craze it created in recent years, and of course I'm talking about the exasperating film and novel saga Fifty Shades of Grey. Now, what’s so annoying about this story? Well, everything; basically the only good thing about it is how handsome Jamie Dornan is. Apart from that, I really don't have anything nice to say. The issue is that it was presented as the ultimate BDSM erotic story of our generation, and at the end of the day it ends up reinforcing heteropatriarchal patterns and kind of misogynistic ideas. Now, BDSM is a very old practice that can be traced back thousands of years, but why is it still so controversial and negatively seen? 


One of the main problems is the terrible representations in popular culture, combined with the misleading ideas that have been spread around it. One great example is the idea that BDSM equals sexual and psychological abuse. However, what so many fail to understand is that, at the end of the day, it’s a practice based on role-play that involves a huge bond between the parties, as well as clear communication and a consensual agreement. So, if you want to understand more about this highly controversial practice, take a look at this selection of movies.



Belle de Jour (1967) Dir. Luis Buñuel




Many consider that Luis Buñuel’s film was the first one to deal or allude to the world and practices of BDSM. The movie tells the story of Séverine, a woman married to a successful doctor she loves so much, although she can't have any sexual encounter. Her sex life is restricted to a set of surreal erotic fantasies that include bondage and sadomasochism. Unable to see what’s really pushing her aside from her husband on an intimate level, she decides to attend a luxurious brothel where she decides to sleep with a client for the first time. From this time on, she begins to work there every afternoon and explore her repressed sexuality.

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The Night Porter (1974) Dir. Liliana Cavani



This one is a really interesting take on the subject and, to be honest, it's also quite controversial. What would you do if you ran into the person who has inflicted you a terrible pain? Now, to that equation add the fact that the perpetrator was a Nazi officer and the victim a prisoner at a concentration camp. Not an easy subject to deal with, right? Well, naturally this movie was highly controversial in Germany, not only because of the sexual themes it explored, but also because it was one of the first films to face their past as a country. So, years after the war ends, Lucia goes on vacations with her husband only to discover that one of the hotel staff is none other but Max, a Nazi officer with whom she had a strange relationship. Although she was forced to have sex with him, he also became her protector and guardian for some time. Once they meet again, Max is scared that she might blow his cover, but at the same time he feels that spark of desire again. As you can see, this isn’t quite an easy subject. More than that, it basically portrays everything that’s misunderstood about BDSM, making it a weird combination between abuse and Stockholm syndrome. Yet, it’s important to watch it to understand the dark path of the subject in films and why we end up with rubbish as Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Story of O (1975) - Dir. Just Jaeckin



If we were to call BDSM films a genre, you’ll find that one of its biggest traits is its sort of misogynistic and kind of repetitive plots. This movie is one of those that's going to make you cringe a little bit but that will also help you shatter all those ideas you'd had about the practice. Based on the novel with the same name, which is also inspired by some of Sade’s stories, the film tells the story of O, a woman who’s taken by her boyfriend to a remote house to make her a submissive. Little by little, she finds herself being forced into more abusive and violent sexual activities. Once she’s freed from the house, she goes back to the city only to become the submissive partner of her boyfriend's stepbrother.

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Maîtresse (1975) Dir. Barbet Schroeder



Released in the same year as The Story of O, Maîtresse has a completely different take on the subject. It tells the story of Olivier, a man who falls for a woman called Ariane. After hanging out for some time with him, Ariane takes him to her house and shows him her secret torture chamber. Oh, by the way, Ariane is a professional dominatrix who recruits Olivier for a job. Although he’s kind of afraid of her practices, he finds himself being her official SM assistant and sort of her new boyfriend. Even when he doesn’t agree with her job and the practices she’s involved with, he’s determined to make her fall for him and abandon this world, but he’ll soon realize that not because he’s a man, he’s got the traditional dominating role on their relationship. 

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9 1/2 Weeks (1986) Dir. Adrian Lyne



A wealthy man has a secret hobby, which is practicing BDSM. One day he becomes infatuated with one of his employees, and soon they start a relationship. Little by little he starts opening and showing her his real passion. The name of the film alludes to the time Elizabeth puts up with the situation. You might already know the message of the film, since it’s quite a known story for most of us. John –whose last name is Gray by the way– fights hard against his emotions, since he doesn’t really want to get too much emotionally involved with Elizabeth, only to discover what he feels for her when she leaves. Now, even when the similarities are many and the heteropatriarchal foundations are there, the movie managed to make an interesting statement when Elizabeth decides to take action and leave him. We’re talking about a time when women were still highly subdued to men, especially when it came to sex.

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Preaching to the Perverted (1997) Dir. Stuart Urban



Let’s now make a change in the tone. In this British comedy, a dominatrix who owns a club that hosts sexual parties for every kind of fetish lovers and BDSM practitioners is being followed by a conservative MP who wants to end with all the immoral kink scene in the city. To do so, he hires a young computer expert working in a Christian company, so that he infiltrates in the BDSM world. Naturally, there’s a huge moral clash, especially when young Peter becomes infatuated with the gorgeous dominatrix. One of the great things is that the movie centers in the real underworld of BDSM and focuses on the social dynamics of this community. It even included real performers on screen.

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Secretary (2002) Dir. Steven Shainberg



Also having a similar plot to 9 ½ Weeks, the film presents the relationship between a lawyer named E. Edward (believe it or not his last name is Grey. Shocking? Not really) and his secretary Lee. This movie deals with the subject of submission and dominance in a more realistic way, portraying the true nature of this type of relationships. Besides the appealing BDSM scenes, it really focuses on the dynamics of these practices and the psychological processes involved in them. In my opinion, it’s a very good movie that shows a tactful and tasteful side of BDSM without romanticizing or demonizing the practice.

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The Submission of Emma Marx (2013) Dir. Eddie Powell and Jackie St. James



This is the first take of a saga that has been often classified as pure pornography due to the explicit content it presents. However, the movie is way much more than just sex scenes and the different BDSM practices involved. It’s, in fact, an analysis and an essay on the basics of consent, trust, and communication between a couple. It’s been considered by many as the ultimate feminist film, debunking many of the misleading taboos regarding the practice. All this is shown through the story of Emma who decides to engage in BDSM practices with a stranger after really questioning what it really is to have a normal sex life. 


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There’s still a long way to change the many misleading perception of BDSM. Sometimes with subjects as delicate as this one, it’s easy to either romanticize it or make it even more controversial, instead of portraying a more realistic panorama. As you can see, we have a set of movies that both give a clear and more understandable portrayal of the practice, as well as cartoonish stories that end up reinforcing unfounded taboos.



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For more movie lists we recommend these:


Top 10 Movies That Were Inspired by Psychoanalysis

7 Movies That Portray The Hallucinatory Horrors Of Schizophrenia

5 Hollywood Films That Taught You To Be Racist

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Cover image from Preaching to the Perverted.

TAGS: sex film list erotic films
SOURCES: Scene 360 What Culture Huffington Post

María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards


Articulista Bilingüe CC+

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