The Teenagers Fuck phenomenon has seen some compelling discussion this week, a desperately needed change from the fanged chastity that so overwhelmed us during the build-up to Twilight's tween windfall last month. And while a new essay in The Guardian suggests young men in particular are a more sophisticated lot since the days of Porky's, another critic of one upcoming film has a different phrase for that: Child pornography.
Particularly as seen in The Reader, which Huffington Post contributor Thelma Adams argued Tuesday is perhaps a bit too upfront in its portrayal of the sexual affair between 36-year-old ex-Nazi guard Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) and 15-year-old schoolboy Michael Berg (David Kross). Sure, it's tastefully done, and director Stephen Daldry did shoot his film's love scenes last, literally days after Kross's 18th birthday. But in retrospect, sure: Maybe Winslet and Kross's anal-sex lesson is a youthful indiscretion too far.
And worse yet, Adams argues, The Reader's casual depiction of that relationship's consequences actually recognizes the act of child sexual abuse (very light spoiler ahead):
When we first see the adult Michael, he's having an affair of the bed - but clearly not of the heart - with a gorgeous woman nearly young enough to be his daughter. And, as the mistress complains that Michael won't let her in to his life, he clearly can't wait until she leaves his apartment so that he can be alone with himself and his memories. It's textbook abused behavior — and all the movie's ambiguities about Nazis, hidden secrets, and admitting culpability don't fully address the fact that Michael is both the victim of abuse, and lost in his continued love for his abuser, because nothing since has come close to that intensity. Emotionally, he stopped growing at 15.
Which uncannily returns us to the more healthy, angsty virility of the modern American teen-sex romp, as elucidated today by Guardian blogger Henry Barnes. Memo to young people: This is the kind of movie sex you want:
Post-[American] Pie, it appears teen comedies are taking a (slightly) more sophisticated view of adolescent sex and sexuality. [...] Sex Drive's hero, Ian, isn't just a randy teenager. He's lonely, desperate and hormonal, bullied by an older brother who boasts greater sexual prowess and outgunned by a more experienced best friend. He's also painfully insecure around girls, who tend to ignore or use him. [...]
It suggests that Hollywood is beginning to realise that most teenagers are driven by more than their base instincts. Concerned parents should take comfort in that. After all, hormones alone are unlikely to turn your teenager pie-fucking crazy. But hormones, plus the influence of Porky's-like idiocy, just might.
So. While The Reader may be among the most sober films of its seasonal class, is it unreasonable of us to deduce that it is today's analog of those reductive sex farces of the '80s? The anti-Sex Drive, perhaps? Or just another garden-variety soft-core Oscar chaser? Either way, we feel like we could use a shower. And maybe a cigarette.