Sex on the Brain

Screenwriter Hanif Kureishi thinks deep about getting down

Given Kureishi's well-established tack of trying to get, as he once said, "as much filth and anarchy into the cinema as possible," it's odd that critics remain surprised by the particular shock tactics in his work. Intimacy (September 28 at 8:00 p.m.), which bleakly details the unemotional sexual interactions between an English man and woman, culminates in a graphic scene of fellatio-- performed (how could such a thing be merely acted?) by Kerry Fox (Welcome to Sarajevo) and Mark Rylance (Angels and Insects). A writer for Guardian Unlimited complained that Intimacy could not possibly have succeeded in its "unprecedented portrayal of real sex" because "the fact of the sexual act is always going to overwhelm the context." Although I haven't yet seen the movie, I would challenge that as we grow increasingly desensitized to violence, perhaps only graphic sex is capable of provoking a constructive form of discomfort.

Not a fluff-and-fold: My Beautiful Laundrette
Not a fluff-and-fold: My Beautiful Laundrette

Clearly, Kureishi is interested in more than literate smut. If he obsesses over the erotics of his characters, it's in order to force a discussion of the power dynamics between individuals and cultures. Within the global economy, the physical acts in Kureishi's films have a currency of their own--whether the transaction is made explicit through prostitution, or implicit through the marriage of two young people from different social classes. For Kureishi, sex--like politics--is always a matter of negotiating who's on top.

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