Destroy All Monsters: Regarding Prosthetic Vaginas

Matt Brown, Columnist

On the subject of prosthetic genitals, as used in a lesbian sex scene: what's the difference? The iceberg of conversation around Blue Is The Warmest Colour has the movie (as a movie) at its tip, while everything below the water line is about the film's six minute sex scene between its two principal characters, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Consistently throughout the massive, massive, nauseatingly massive discourse around Blue's sex scene, there is always one proviso provided: but, everyone takes pains to point out, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux were wearing prosthetic genitals, lovingly sculpted from their actual genitals, but not, you know, their actual genitals. So it's not real sex.

It is in that proviso - the sly cuckolding of the entire conversation about the film with the notion that the sex scene in Blue is somehow, safely, "not real" - that tells you everything you need to know about the problem with sex's dominance in the Blue conversation in the first place. This unrelenting, laser-like obsession with sex, hidden behind a chaste, Victorian assertion that sex is dirty, itself hidden behind the painfully obvious undercurrent wherein claiming enjoyment of this sweaty titillation makes most people feel ashamed.

First off: let's call bullshit on the whole thing. I don't believe for a second that either actress was wearing a prosthetic in any shot in Blue Is The Warmest Colour where their vulvas were on display. If they were, kudos to the prosthetic artist; that person deserves the Oscar, though I doubt the Academy in its wisdom would ever have the [excuse me] balls to give out a statuette for prosthetic vaginas. But taking the production at its word for a moment...

Let's call bullshit on the idea behind the whole thing. Conduct the requisite thought experiment. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos are completely naked, except for a triangle of silicone covering their vulvas. Maybe it's larger than a triangle; maybe they are wearing silicone granny panties; maybe it's not silicone, but something else. The important part, though, is that something is covering their labia and thereabouts, and - this being 2013 and all - those parts (and their prosthetic duplicates) are shorn of any occluding pubic hair, and thus really look like labia and thereabouts.

The triangle of silicone covering the vulvas is what is keeping us from seeing the actress' real vulvas, but looks exactly like the actresses' real vulvas. If you believe the bullshit mentioned above, this prosthetic must also be thin and unobtrusive enough to pass muster on camera as the real thing.

Here's the thought experiment: Seydoux and Exarchopoulos then, on a bed and under the gaze of a camera (and a director that neither actress particularly likes any more), proceed to masturbate one another, perform cunnilingus, and analingus as well. All, theoretically, over a sliver of prosthetic that is somehow keeping the whole process from being, culturally speaking, indecent and immodest.

As I remarked to my screening partner when I saw Blue Is The Warmest Colour at the Toronto International Film Festival: if you've got your nose right up your co-star's butthole, honestly - prosthetic or no - what difference does it make?

It makes none. Unless you are restricting the definition of "sex" to the only one that cannot, under any circumstances, apply in Blue Is The Warmest Colour's case - i.e., a penis entering a vagina - Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are having sex in Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Unless those convenient prosthetics also include steel plate that is keeping any neurons, on the part of either giver or receiver of the rubbing, licking and touching seen in the film, from perceiving any physical sensation, pleasurable or not, from either party, they're having as close to a sexual encounter as most people get in the average year.

There's a whiff of marginalization in the whole conceit, because it's so easy - for heterosexuals who don't know any better - to calmly assert that in the absence of traditional penetration, nothing untoward is happening between the actresses in Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Whenever it's the more normalized version of sexuality (penis + vagina = woo woo!), shown real-for-real in movies as far-ranging as Lust, Caution and Thriller: A Cruel Picture, then at least the "moral majority" can nod sagely and say, yes, that's sex. And then they can freak out about it being wrong and disgusting and whatever.

But thank heavens, in the case of Blue Is The Warmest Colour, they don't have to. It's just girls touching each other. It's not real sex, they're lesbians! Phew. And, they have those handy prosthetics keeping them from really touching each other, too! Double phew! It's not even real lesbian sex, it's fake lesbian sex by regular heterosexual girls with rubber vaginas, who wouldn't be having real lesbian sex even if they were given the opportunity to do so! Phew, phew, phew!

Beyond that, the whole conversation speaks to the ceaseless assertion that some kind of boundary line be maintained between "normal" professions and the sex trade. You can pay an actress to show her tits, you can pay an actress to hump an actor bareback in a room filled with mirrors, you can pay an actress to glue a prosthetic vulva to her vulva and stick her nose up another actress' ass... but, holy crap, don't ever propose to pay an actress to perform an actual sexual act on another person on camera. That's prostitution.

So instead, argue about whether the sex scene in Blue is overriding the conversation about the film as a whole; or whether director Abdellatif Kechiche abused his actresses in the way he directed the sex scenes in the first place; or whether the NC-17 rating will stop younger people from seeing the film and considering its themes. These aren't unworthy subjects, and they have the corollary advantage of nicely diverting attention away from any question of whether Blue Is The Warmest Colour is any great shakes as a movie.

Whether it is or not, however, Blue is touchingly representative of real life in the best and worst ways: it's long and largely mundane; it has one blisteringly hot moment of passion that has sustained a vastly disproportionate level of significance in the memory of the whole; and in our judgments of its characters and their behaviour, we're revealing far more about ourselves than we ever could about them.


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture.

Around the Internet:
  • Rocket
  • You were making a case somewhere?

  • sfmistress

    fake sex but real rights...and
    those actresses have collectively bargained contracts that affords them
    all the labor protections of which they cannot be bothered to bring to
    'sex trafficked victims' Instead, these labor protected with their agents lobby to further criminalization our agents: security, phone reception, brothel keepers, drivers as 'pimps'. And raise money on our backs as 'sex trafficked victims' oversees while they ignore the voices of organized prostitutes locally. The hypocrisy abounds-again.

  • dr timaree

    Am I the only one that thought maybe the purpose was safer sex? Perhaps the idea was that dental dams would take people too much out of the scene but the actresses preferred a barrier method.

  • At that point, why not just have your actors just have real sex? A la http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S...

  • RepublicansSUCKS

    Mr Brown

    here are the actresses themselves talking about wearing prosthetic in the DailyBeast and the Special Effects guy discussing those prosthetic vaj in French so you can stop sounding like an arrogant crude asswipe about it!

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/a...

    http://www.lesinrocks.com/2013...

  • Mr. Cavin

    Plus, I think Mr. Brown is calling bullshit on something he thinks is an industry lie, not saying that nobody ever told that lie. As a matter of fact, there couldn't even be an article like this without citations like those.

  • Who's behaving like an arrogant, crude asswipe?

  • Just wait until the conversation moves towards Lars von Tier's Nymphomaniac and the fact that apparently the entire lower half of the actors' bodies were digitally replaced with porn star body doubles.

  • VyceVictus

    Kinda sorta related, maybe: Did Chloe Sevigny suck Vincent Gallo's actual dick, or was that a prosthetic/prop?

  • Corey Pierce

    My main annoyance with the sex conversation in BITWC is that local critic and anti-porn advocate Susan G Cole calls the scene "hot" and gave the film high regard, but at the same time will call Don Jon 'filth'. She goes on tour debating Ron Jeremy saying porn should be outright banned.

    I wouldn't call BITWC porn, but I don't see how an anti-porn advocate lets this one off the hook. is the prosthetic excuse for her? Or is it that its not porn if she likes it?

  • so Matt Brown calls stop on sexy time... hmmm

    I guess you're right. What's the difference is the big question? I always ask what's the difference between porn and prostitution and most people can't tell sometimes... In concept this works, however, what if it were some weird thing that the actress' wanted for some odd sense of "okayness" with the detail of the scene? I honestly don't know where it originated (the silicone vulva), but I guess many will like to jump from this movie to The Brown Bunny (another film I've never seen) just so they can see the "real" sex.... or just turn on HBO at a bad enough hour.

    Nicely done sir.

  • The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love

    This is the film being praised for it's realistic depictions of lesbian sex?

    To quote Mrs. Garrison: I mean, really I don't even understand how two women can make love, unless they just kind of scissor or something.

    http://www.thatdogsblog.com/ta...

  • Qinlong

    Arthouse films about simple, real-life relationships are a dime a dozen in France (whether they be about heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual relationships). This one is getting more attention because it features a scene that may or may not be pornography, involving to very attractive actresses.
    As for the act itself, it has been said that it is not an authentic reprensentation of lesbian intercourse, but rather a heterosexual fantasizing of what lesbian intercourse must be like. I can't comment on the former (as I'm a straight male), nor can I on the latter (having not seen the film).
    I'd have to see the film to be sure, but it looks as if all this is much ado about nothing.

  • This is the first I have heard they were fitted with fake crotches. Sounds like complete BS to me. Everyone who's seen this says it is porno city and no way could their genitals be faked.

  • RepublicansSUCKS
  • Adam

    Surprised the film is legal in Britain, actually, considering one of the characters is underage. Anyone know how comes it is? (obvs the actresses must both have been over 18, but we have the Dangerous Cartoons Act here, so I'm pretty sure that fictional depictions of underage sex are illegal, at least if drawn).

  • RepublicansSUCKS

    Exarchopoulos will turn 20 this November and Seydoux is 28.

    for your information the Age of Consent in France is 15 so the director was doing it by the books so nothing illegal here

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A...

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Lesbian age of consent...

    http://chartsbin.com/view/hxj

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Ages of consent in North America

    All U.S. states set their limits between 16 and 18.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A...

  • The local laws don't necessarily apply when it comes to international distribution, nor do the ages of the actors in question. In Canada, for example, the child pornography laws are specific to the age of the CHARACTER, not to the age of the actor so anything with sexually explicit material involving a character under the age of consent could potentially be treated by the courts as child porn. It's happened in the past here, Fat Girl being the most notable example.

  • Michael Brooke

    As far as films are concerned (still photographs are a slightly different matter) I'm pretty sure that British law (the 1978 Protection of Children Act) is only concerned with the actual age of the performers.

    And there has to be actual sexual contact taking place in front of the camera before the PCA gets breached - so Adrian Lyne's 1997 'Lolita' was fine, despite Dominique Swain only being in her mid-teens.

    (Lyne was incredibly careful to make sure that no British, American or any other relevant legislation in other potential marketplaces was breached when making the film, documenting all potentially contentious scenes from multiple angles in case of any subsequent queries and investigations).

  • Michael Brooke

    If the actresses are over 18, that's fine as far as the law is concerned.

    Although this whole kerfuffle reminds me of the machinations whereby 'The Tin Drum' was passed uncut in Britain - technically, any footage of actual sexual contact involving a child is banned (context does not provide a defence, and the law regards such footage as a record of a crime being committed), but because Volker Schlöndorff was able to demonstrate that there was an invisible-to-the-camera cloth between 12-year-old David Bennent and the young woman's mons pubis, it was fine.

    But the irony is that if the cloth hadn't been present, the footage would have looked absolutely identical - but it would have run into major legal difficulties and would almost certainly have had to be removed from the UK release prints.

  • This is hi-sterical. Now I have to see this movie.

  • Bos

    I demand prosthetic vaginas made of actual vaginal skin.

    "Ehi, put this on.....so it's not a real sex scene!
    uhm..."

  • MOTION CARRIED

  • Kurt

    First off. Good column, as usual!

    The fascinating thing about BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is that the director treats the sex as matter of fact as he does the rest of the narrative. It's simply there because it is a part of her particular life. People talk, people eat, people work, people have sex with each other. The movie is the rather deliberate story of a kind of average girl finding her meandering way in the world. Adele is a character you don't see that often in movies, not because she is bisexual or a lesbian, but rather she doesn't have any major illness, significant childhood trauma, any major cause or motivation, or other 'extraordinary' aspect that typically makes 'drama' or 'movies' (yes, even French movies).

    All this hang-up about the sex scene is clearly on the part of the culture (sadly, we still have these hang-ups), and very little on the part of the filmmakers.

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