Antiporno

Antiporno ★★★★

"Why do I like reading about cocks and cunts so much?"
"Because it's obscene."
"So why are books and movies about cocks and cunts bad?"
"Because they're obscene."

Antiporno is an often absurd and occasionally surreal film, which naturally raises questions in its audience like "what does this all mean?" and "what's this really about?" and "what's even going on here?" It's the kind of film that feels like it's desperately trying to tell you something but can't speak your language and is forced instead to do a kind of cinematic interpretive dance that isn't quite directly translatable into any simple linguistic form. But the thing is, regardless of whether you "get" "it", or even if you do "get" "it," regardless of whether whatever "it" "is" is actually any "good," we can always just look at the movie at its most basic level as a movie, as a piece of audiovisual entertainment, and from that perspective, simply put, Antiporno is exactly the kind of bonkers-ass nonsense that I got into film for in the first place.

But if you know me, I love bonkers-ass nonsense like this precisely because I love reading into it, so what exactly do I think all this means? I have no idea what could possibly constitute a spoiler here, and I'm going to jump around the film's chronology quite a lot, so if you like movies composed at almost 0% plot and 100% symbolism and want to go in blind then just go check out Antiporno, it's a wild ride (and it's streaming on Mubi!). Essentially the conclusion I'm going to come to is that, whereas in Why Don't Play in Hell? Sono examined the intersection of violence in art and art as violence, here in Antiporno he examines the intersection of sexuality in art and art as sexuality.

The first moment in Antiporno when I finally felt like I had something of a sense of what was going on came around the middle. Kyōko, a famous fashion model, writer, painter, and general artist hooks up with her secretary Noriko: they kiss, they get frisky with each other, and then Kyōko suddenly runs back over to her easel and her in-progress portrait and starts painting frantically. As she strokes the artwork with her paintbrush, she starts to engage in some of the negative self-talk we've seen her previously fall victim to throughout the film: "I'm worthless," she tells herself at first, but then she gets caught in a kind of feedback loop of encouragement and self-doubt, bouncing back and forth between phrases like "nothing is going right" and "don't doubt yourself." (Already, without interpretation, extremely relatable.)

This psychological looping is echoed in the film's final scene, the iconic one on most of the posters for the film (and currently in the Letterboxd banner), where Kyōko has various different paints dumped on her as she lies on the ground writhing around with pleasure. Whereas before Kyōko moved in linear sequence from sex (making out with Noriko) to art (painting her portrait), here she experiences both at the same time, sexually delighting in her immersion within the paints. But as in the previous scene, she once again quickly gets caught up in a cycle of internal negativity: she sees (imagines) her parents having sex next to her in the colorful goop, and as the multicolored paints gradually bleed together into an excremental brown, the film cuts back and forth between the orgasmic ecstasy of the prismatic paint-pool and the despairing devastation of the fecal wasteland.

There's some important background to consider here as well before we move to interpretation: Kyōko and Noriko are actors, they are performing for a "romantic pornography" film (basically a softcore porno, from what I can tell — for more information on the Japanese "roman porno," check out louferrigno's review, it's quite informative and well written). This adds a layer to Kyōko's art: she is not only a model, writer, and painter, but an actor as well, and one who acts as a model, writer, painter, etc. (an elegant metaphor for imposter syndrome). And it also adds a layer to her identity: Kyōko is performing a certain idealized version of herself, what psychoanalysis would call her "ideal ego," but then she sees her non-idealized self from this idealized position, the psychoanalytic position called "ego-ideal."* This is all doubly alienating for her because she feels the distance between her performative, idealized self and her "true" self, a painful disparity.

Additionally, Kyōko's relationship with her parents is strained, to say the least. According to Kyōko herself, her identity was formed in no small part by the childhood trauma of, on the one hand, having her parents constantly tell her negative things about sex, that's it's morally wrong, and on the other, hearing her parents have sex every night in spite of its supposed immorality. It confused her sexual moral compass, it made her feel ashamed of herself and her own desires, and it made her unsure of what was "good" or "bad" in terms of her sexuality in particular and her identity in general. "Books and movies about cocks and cunts" are "obscene," and that's simultaneously what makes them fun and what makes them wrong. In short, her parents made her feel that all sexuality is bad, but at the same time they conveyed the message that this badness was also desirable, and thus young Kyōko was left trapped inside of an impossible sexual deadlock.

So. What do we make of all this? Well, in its simplest form, we have artistic inspiration emerging from sexual stimulation, the expression of which then gets caught between the competing forces of emancipation from and entrapment within past sexual trauma. We create art because we get horny, the movie tells us, but because this artistic creation emerges from our (sexual) self, it is burdened with the baggage of a lifetime of trauma, and while at its best our artistic expressions grant us freedom from this psycho-sexual negativity, our best (most authentic) artistic expressions also tap into that same negativity, the emancipation and the entrapment are all part of the same system, the same psychological dialectic, and so, like Kyōko, we are dragged back down into the shit at the same time as we raise ourselves up from it, forced to relive our deepest fears at the same time as we escape from them, united in the duality of the prismatic paint-pool and its familial-orgiastic excrement, crawling through the muck and mire of the obscenity of our own sexual–artistic desires, crying out to anyone who'll listen, "Please, give me an exit!"

"Cut!"
"Oh man, this is bullshit."

2016 | Sion Sono | Metacinema | Japan

*big-time tangent here, but the confrontation between the psychoanalytic ideal ego and ego-ideal is enunciated so perfectly in Richard Ayoade's The Double that I tried to quote this passage in the review above, but ultimately I found it too distracting in what's already a dense-ass paragraph. But! That doesn't mean I can't waste space quoting it down here! In the film, Jesse Eisenberg plays two versions of his character, one idealized and one critical, externalizing Kyōko's internal conflict, and he explains his psychological deadlock thus:

"I don't know how to be myself. It's like I'm permanently outside myself. Like, like you could push your hands straight through me if you wanted to. And I can see the type of man I want to be versus the type of man I actually am, and I know that I'm doing it, but I'm incapable of what needs to be done. I'm like Pinocchio, a wooden boy. Not a real boy. And it kills me."

i know it's uncool to do this, but i work as a famous fashion model, writer, painter, and general artist. if you'd like to help me have a bunch of different paints dumped on me as i lie on the ground writhing around with pleasure, please check out my patreon. i literally text my friend every time someone new subscribes, and he hates bonkers-ass nonsense

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