A new perspective on sexual deviance


When one of your roommates requests suggestions for movie night, most people probably wouldn’t expect a dramedy about fetishism to come up as an option. Then again, most people don’t have my roommates.


“The Little Death” is a 2014 Australian film directed by Josh Lawson, who also plays one of the main characters.


As soon as I heard the title, I had a feeling it was going to be a different kind of movie. The French euphemism for an orgasm is “la petite mort,” which translates literally as “the little death.” I learned this particular factoid years ago while Googling the lyrics of Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died In Your Arms,” and it’s been taking up brain-space ever since.


The film jumps between five storylines, each one focusing on a different pair of people who are dealing with the effects of some kind of abnormal sexual desire. Its opening scene immediately set the tone of the movie with an extreme close-up of someone being awkwardly intimate with someone else’s foot.


After this rather uncomfortable display of a fairly innocent fetish, we’re then introduced to Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), the owner of the foot, and her boyfriend Paul (Josh Lawson), the ravisher of the foot. As they settle in for the night, Maeve reveals to Paul that she has a sexual fantasy of being raped. Although initially played for humor when Paul misunderstands her request, the atmosphere becomes significantly more serious once he realizes what she’s asking of him.


The rest of the movie follows this style, bouncing between dry, dark humor that is far less crass than I would have expected from the topic and much more serious moments as the characters struggle with desires that they see as shameful.


I would probably describe the filming style as “generic indie” and the soundtrack is nothing particularly memorable, but the real heart of this film lies in its writing and character development. The most notable thing about the movie is how it handles the portrayal of what many would call “sexual deviance.” Rather than giving us radically strange characters and ridiculous situations, “The Little Death” places these unusual urges into the context of the socially normal day-to-day lives of otherwise ordinary people.


Although never heavy-handed with its message, the movie seems to be encouraging its audience into the perspective that maybe these sorts of desires aren’t so deviant after all. Our society forces people into a particular box of sexual normativity, asking anyone who is “other,” in any way, to feel embarrassed about their own sexuality, but it turns out that there’s a pretty high percentage of people who don’t fit in that box. “The Little Death” highlights that fact, and it does so in a delightfully heartwarming and amusing way.


If you’re up for an occasionally disturbing but overall enjoyable movie experience, I would definitely suggest looking up “The Little Death” on Netflix and giving it a watch. (For extra fun, invite any sexually inhibited friends you might have and watch them clam up during the awkward scenes.)