Despite the near-infinite amount of internet porn that lies a mere mouse click away, sexually explicit films still manage to generate an absurd amount of buzz. Remember the hype around the seven-minute lesbian sex scene in Blue Is the Warmest Color or the reaction to the O-face posters created for Nymphomaniac? We can see every orifice imaginable being stuffed on demand, but the promise of viewing it in the public sphere, on a big screen in a dark room full of other theatergoers, still feels charmingly taboo.
The marketing campaign for Gasper Noé’s Love upped the ante so much that it made Lars von Trier look like E.L. James. If you haven’t yet seen them, the NSFW posters drip with eroticism, quite literally: The most infamous photo is of a woman’s hand gripping an ejaculating penis. As if that's not shock-inducing enough, the whole film is shot in 3D, which turns out to be the cinematic equivalent of sitting right in the Splash Zone. Carnally, Love delivers on what it promises. The dialogue and plot, on the other hand, are only marginally better than your average porn script.
Noé gets right down to business in the opening scene: a naked young man and woman leisurely give each other manual pleasure for a few minutes, until he orgasms and wakes up from what turns out to be a dream. Murphy (Karl Glusman), an American in Paris, still pines for that woman, his ex-girlfriend Electra (Aomi Muyock); in his waking life, he feels incredibly trapped with his current girlfriend, Omi (Klara Kristin), and their baby. He receives a frantic voicemail from Electra’s mother that reveals her daughter is missing, so he’s inspired to take an Opium-aided stroll down memory lane reflecting on the two years he spent with his ex. We soon learn that he, Electra, and Omi had a threesome — but he cheated, got Omi pregnant, and Electra kicked him out of her life. Did I mention that everyone is young and incredibly beautiful?
The eventually damning threesome is played out onscreen, along with a handful of other extended sex scenes, in which Noé doesn’t shy away from showing tongues, tangled limbs, genitals, and other...emissions. It’s sexy, even considering the cheesy rock ‘n’ roll guitar riffs accompanying every thrust and moan.
The lead-up to the threesome, though, is downright laughable. During a post-coital conversation, Murphy asks Electra what her greatest fantasy is and she reveals it’s having sex with him and another woman — a pretty blonde. Murphy says something along the lines of “woah, man, that’s also MY greatest fantasy,” surprising absolutely nobody. (I half-expected a sexy pizza delivery woman to ring the door at that very moment.) That’s the thing about Murphy: he thinks he’s a tortured artistic genius, but when he’s not mansplaining 2001: A Space Odyssey, he’s just a pretentious film school jackass with pretty vanilla tastes. In other words, he’s a fuckboy. He’s wildly jealous of Electra’s ex-boyfriend, uneasy when he’s at a sex club that he forced Electra to go to, and extremely uncomfortable during an Electra-initiated three-way with a transsexual. He also has a Birth of a Nation poster in his apartment, which makes me wonder how he’s convinced anyone to sleep with him.
Perhaps it’s Murphy’s personality that makes the scenes where nobody’s fucking feel like an endless chore. (If you think I’m exaggerating, consider that a guy sitting behind me at the daytime screening FELL ASLEEP AND STARTED SNORING.) Or maybe it’s the utter lack of chemistry between him and Electra outside of the bedroom.
“I want to film that which cinema has rarely allowed itself, either for commercial or for legal reasons: to film the organic dimension of being in love,” Noé has said of his motivation to make Love. The film fails in that regard, because there is no perceived emotional connection to back up their erotic one. They enjoy fucking and fighting and strained conversation — but a sweeping love story that does not make.
In the past, Noé has said that he wanted to transcend “the ridiculous division that dictates no normal film can contain overtly erotic scenes, even though everyone loves to make love," and his attempt to take that on is admirable. Love is worth watching if only to sate your curiosity — but know that much of it hangs limp.