The Good: One or two brief moments of actual sensuality
The Bad: Characters, Plot, Lack of eroticism, Senselessness, Stiff acting
The Basics: The Story Of O is a failure of a movie that is supposed to be erotic. Instead, director Just Jaeckin creates a disturbing, pointless tale that is impossible to enjoy.
A movie that is truly erotic is a rare bird. If something is completely explicit, it is almost never done with any sense of class, hence erotic movies being filled with ridiculous actors, an utter lack of character and terrible writing. In short, most movies that fall into the genre erotica (commonly, if inappropriately, called "porn"), are simply about getting people naked and getting them into sexual situations. And films that try to be classy and reveal nothing have a tendency to be either titillating and frustrating or downright dull. The Story Of O, released in 1975 (now available on DVD), was supposed to be a middle ground.
The Story Of O begins with O and her lover, Rene, being driven to a mysterious place. En route, Rene has O remove her underwear and sit with her bare buttocks on the leather seat. She is then dropped off at a villa filled with women who wear clothing for easiest possible sexual access and men who walk around and take advantage of them. At this place, O is sexually used like a communal spittoon, whipped for no apparent reason and told contradictory rules.
And she goes along with it. Completely.
When she leaves the villa, O and Rene return to their lives where O apparently works as a photographer. She finds herself more empowered than before and, in sharp contrast, she allows Rene to trade her off to his quasi-brother Sir Stephen. Sir Stephen uses O and falls in love with her and brands her and the whole thing is utterly pointless.
From the opening moments of this movie, this is ridiculously stupid and nonsensical on a human level. O never questions Rene on why she must remove her underwear, why she must always sit with her knees open, never questions or rejects when - upon entering the villa - she is set upon by other men. O has no human spark, an utter lack of character.
It is O's absence of personality that makes The Story Of O terribly unerotic.
O goes along with anything and there are brief suggestions that her love of Rene allows her to willingly subject herself to anything and anyone. But it makes no sense, there is no passion between O and Rene and therefor little comprehensibility to the actions O lets herself endure. Especially the beatings. O, who might have great strength of love, allows herself to be whipped in many many scenes. Unlike a fetishists' piece, O appears to receive no sexual pleasure from the act, making her submission to the strange world she finds herself in all the more confusing and stupid.
There is an important distinction that the film tries to make and that is in the free will of the characters. Unlike pornography, which is primarily defined as being a work without consent, The Story Of O is erotica, because all of O's choices are made with her full consent. She is given the options to leave various places and arrangements, and she repeatedly declines. Why? It's impossible to say. Fans of this movie would probably say "love." I say "stupidity."
The most troubling aspect of The Story Of O is that everyone uses everyone else without any clear emotion or care. It is all about desire, but all of the desires are empty. O lets Rene let other men have sex with her, presumably out of love for him. But then, when Rene transfers O to Sir Stephen - if it sounds like he simply deeded her over to him like a piece of property, you have the emotional crux of the movie correct - she acts the same way. There is no actual emotion behind the actions and that makes the movie almost impossible to like.
The Story Of O has one or two moments of genuine eroticism - though it seems like each time it was about to get sustainably erotic, the scene ended - but largely, the terrible plot and utterly incomprehensible actions of the characters makes the movie not worthwhile and, in fact, disturbing to watch. The real amazing feat of this movie is in the male nudity. Women are naked in almost every frame of the film. However, it is only in the very last portions of the movie that a male is seen even partially naked (we see male nipple, ooh!). It is almost as feat of cinematic magic that in a movie with so much female nudity and outright sex, not a single penis is exposed. Not even a male buttock is shown. That puts NYPD Blue above this movie for male nudity.
In the final analysis, The Story Of O is about sex and domination, not love and caring. It makes for a movie that is utterly unsatisfying and more troubling than erotic.
For other movies with a strong erotic component, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Henry And June
Love And Other Drugs
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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