Pleasure or Pain

Pleasure or Pain ★★★

Erotica is a film genre I do not often see reviewed here on Letterboxd. I'm not talking about pornography, of course, but the types of films made by Salman King, who collaborated with director Adrian Lyne on 9½ Weeks, starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. The last film King directed was this one, Pleasure or Pain, released in 2013, a year after his death. It bears comparison with the work of French director Just Jaeckin (The Story of O, Emannuelle) as an exploration into testing the boundaries of love and lust.

Here, King pushes the envelope of acceptability with a wife Victoria (Malena Morgan) who is so devoted to her husband Jack (Christos Vasilopoulos) that she will experiment sexually in any way that pleases him. This leads to some kinky but not totally extreme situations, including threesomes, lesbian encounters, sex toys, masturbation, phone sex, making porn videos and consensual adultery. Of course, there is full frontal nudity. Yet the scenes in the "Funhouse" toward the end of the film are so masterfully portrayed, as Victoria must make the choice between pleasure and pain, that one could be watching something by David Lynch. And the entire story is told as a retrospective taped in a studio by a now-crippled Victoria after all the events have passed, adding an unexpected level of pathos to the mix.

For whatever reason, mainstream cinema has embraced themes of gun violence, narcotics use and personal greed, but sexuality is still shunned as a taboo subject by most adults. Isn't it time for erotica to come out of the closet? Wouldn't society as a whole benefit from more openness about what turns us on and satisfies us physically? Or should we continue to ignore this as a serious form of cinema and let the porn channels of the Internet continue to dominate our perception of sex? I wonder.

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