Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Do You Mean?

“What are you doing?” asks a woman when another woman comes on to her. Meaning: where is the plot going? Are you really attracted to me or (since this is a Hollywood dreamscape) are you just trying to mess up my relationship with my actual or potential boyfriend? Are you a psychopath? When should I scream or whack you?

This is a scene from the lesbian thriller Bound, in which Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon not only hook up, but join forces to outwit the Mob by stealing a stolen fortune and taking off with it.

They stay loyal to each other! They don’t get caught! Neither of them dies! Who ever heard of such stuff in mainstream movieland?

In her heyday, Audrey Hepburn starred in a movie (I think it was Breakfast at Tiffany's) in which she responds to a suggestive remark by asking, with great hauteur: "What do you mean?" It's the question that leads the conversation into a detour off the expected path.

When the person being cruised or flirted with or tested demands an explanation, the audience holds their collective breath.

For me, the essence of sex is mutuality. If the object of attraction is shocked or insulted or disgusted, it's game over. If she (or he, but usually she) is surprised and intrigued, the dance takes on more momentum. In the moment of loaded silence between the question and the answer, anything could happen.

Lesbianism in mainstream movies is usually implied rather than shown openly. So the question "What do you mean?" is never asked or clearly answered. Two bff's live together for years. In some cases, one of them has a baby that they both raise together. Their relationship could be taken to mean that a good man is hard to find.

The answer to "What are you doing?" in the movie under discussion is (as I remember) "Isn't it obvious?" Well yes, but it's not usually defined. The mutual acknowledgment brings the audience into the dance. We know who wants whom else, and we like to watch. We would like to be one character seducing the other, or we would like to be seduced. We can even change our minds mid-plot about who we would like to be.

In Bound, suspense isn't based on the question of how these women feel about each other. That point is made early on. They want more: they want to elope with a fortune that was stolen by bad guys who don't deserve to keep it. But will the women get away with their daring plan, or will one crumble under pressure and the other get killed?

Warning: spoiler ahead!

The tension mounts. Step by step, they go through their moves, separately and together. Each move brings them closer to a climax of Happy-Ever-After.

There's nothing like unexpected lust and a passionate response in a movie that seems aimed at a "mainstream" audience. But maybe the biggest surprise is that "mainstream" contains all sorts of barely-hidden kinks.

Maybe another surprise is that I couldn't think of anything more enlightening as I enter a new decade on my birthday. :~)



  1. Happy Birthday, Jean!!

    I don't remember the plot of Bound very well. I just recall being overwhelmed by the sexual tension, even before anything at all had happened. The physical contrast between Jennifer Tilley, playing as I recall a femme gangster's moll, and Gina Gershon's boyish strength, made the attraction all the more intriguing.

    You're right, there aren't that many lesbian movies (that I've seen at least) that are explicit about the characters' carnal connection. And you know, even more amazing, Bound features a woman leaving her man (and a sort of stability, at least) for another woman.


  2. Bound is one of the finest movies ever made. Not only is the sexual chemistry off the charts, it's a tense thriller with a supurb script and wonderful direction that never lets up. (And one of those rare movies that makes me strangle pillows.) I can often predict the next line or next scene in movies and TV shows, but I had no clue what was coming next in Bound. That's some damn fine writing.

    I'm so glad that someone dedicated an entire post to this movie. It deserves it.

  3. I've never heard of this movie "Bound" before, but if Jennifer Tilly is in it I'm interested. She has the huskiest, sexiest, smoke cured film noir voice of any actress for my money. What would it be like to wake up in the night and hear that voice next to you on the pillow.



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