The Little Death’s Big Deaths
The Little Death a.k.a. “A Funny Kind of Love” is an Australian film made in 2014. The movie is a satirical romantic comedy directed by Josh Lawson. This ninety-seven minute flick has a powerful message but the internet’s most popular movie rating sites IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes unfortunately don’t acknowledge its deeper meaning. Although the movie itself was rated highly (on average 6.7 as of February 1st 2016) next to no one comments on the message behind each couple’s fate; worst of all its film description does it no justice.
On Wikipedia and IMDb, the film’s description asserts that the featured Sidney couples relationships are ruined from the “repercussions” of revealing their fetishes. This article will reveal the opposite. The repercussions in the film stem directly from a lack of sharing. Rotten Tomatoes’ summary endorses all the problems revealed through the film in describing the setting as taking place “behind the closed doors of a seemingly normal suburban street.” To describe the characters in the film as “seemingly normal” is ignorant to the reality of modern relationships— they are normal. The Little Death is a critique on a culture-wide lack of communication about sexual repression/preferences.
Dan and Evie
“I was embarrassed”- Dan
Dan and Evie are the easiest relationship to analyse because they form a lens through which to look at the rest of the movie. They are introduced while sitting in a therapist’s office. The therapist points out to viewers that “what seems to be missing [in their relationship] is communication,” and goes on to suggest they try role playing as a means of helping both Evie and Dan find their voice. After they have their first enjoyable role play experience Evie mentions in passing that Dan’s character was “strong and believable.” As a compliment she goes on to say that “[maybe Dan] should have been an actor,” which Dan takes seriously. From that moment forward their relationship completely falls apart, not because of the role play fetish but because they continue to improperly communicate. Evie agrees to continue attempting to role play with the intent to bring them closer together while Dan pursues role playing with the secret agenda of gaining acting experience and praise.
Dan and Evie’s relationship is defined by miscommunication. Once Evie learns she is pregnant she attempts to tell Dan by prefacing with “I need to talk to you… this is important… I’m in this— you and me— all the way. Are you? What if we take things to the next level?” Excited, Dan runs off thinking they are “on the same page”and comes back dressed up and ready for another role play. When Evie tries to tell Dan that they aren’t on the same page they are interrupted by the door and their conversation is delayed. The relationship later ends in Evie leaving Dan never having told him about the baby and Dan prioritizing his pursuit as an actor (likely due to a mid-life crisis) to the point where he loses all awareness of Evie’s emotional needs. Although Evie is shown as trying to communicate with Dan and repeatedly getting shot down, it is noteworthy they are both to blame. Evie beats around the bush rather than be straight with Dan about her pregnancy and fears.
When viewers are watching the characters’ relationships unfold it is important that they take on the role of the therapist. Each couple is lacking communication in different ways– as will be mentioned in following.
Phil and Maureen
“This is so complicated…” – Phil
Phil’s fetish is introduced as somnophilia, “sexual arousal from watching a person sleep.” Although his fascination is already present, it escalates in severity— and creepiness— when he realizes the pills his boss offered him can knock anyone out to sleep, completely unable to be woken up, for several solid hours. One night Maureen accidentally drinks his sleeping tea, and Phil feels justified in continuing to slip her the sleeping pills because it seems to do her no harm.
Although the situation feels rather date-rapey the film does not imply Phil ever went so far as to have sexual intercourse with his wife while she slept. As the film unfolds Phil’s situation becomes sad and prompts sympathy from viewers. He spends the time with his sleeping wife lavishing her with gifts, watching home movies with her and cuddling. Maureen being unconscious seems like the only time Phil can get any form of affection from her. The time Phil spends with Sleeping Maureen proves to be so precious to him he compromises his work and gets fired for being too tired to perform his job.
When Maureen confronts Phil about not being at work and spending money on womanly things (that he’d bought for Sleeping Maureen) Phil decides the truth is too complicated to explain and lies to her. Phil pretends to be having an affair. Maureen asks “Why couldn’t [he have just slept with] her” and receives a perfectly ironic speech from Phil. It was all because “[Sleeping Maureen is] softer… quieter… She doesn’t yell at [Phil]. She doesn’t call [him] an idiot or tell [him] to shut up all the time. She listens to [him]. [Sleeping Maureen is] nice to [Phil] and doesn’t make [him] feel like the only thing stopping her from being happy is [him].” After Maureen tells Phil to leave he calls her on his cellphone but gets into a car crash while trying to explain how there was no other woman.
Like Dan, one has to wonder whether Phil’s fetish was really the problem. Role playing was a gateway to Dan’s midlife crisis just as somnophilia led to Phil overindulging in time spent with his sleeping wife. Though the fetishes are a part of the problem, they are nowhere close to the source— they are just distractions. Both relationships ended in ruin due to a lack of communication. Dan needed to communicate how unhappy he was with his life. Evie should have told Dan she was pregnant the moment she knew instead of approaching the topic vaguely. Phil didn’t speak up for himself or tell Maureen how dissatisfied he had become with her treatment of him.
Richard and Rowena
“I’m so afraid to tell you” – Rowena
Rowena’s fetish throughout the film becomes grossly misunderstood. She has dacryphilia meaning she derives sexual pleasure in seeing someone cry. Note that the film does not label her as a sadist, her fixation stems from the action not the cause. Unfortunately Rowena considers Richard an unlikely person to be seen crying unless overwhelmed with sadness and pursues wringing reactions out of him the only way she knows how; emotional manipulation. Rowena forces Richard to dwell over his father’s death, fakes his precious dog’s disappearance (only to have the dog actually get lost as a result) and lies about having cancer. When Richard starts to understand he’s being manipulated he tries to walk out on the relationship only to be told by Rowena that she’s pregnant. Their final scene ends with a close up on Rowena’s face as a tear slips down her cheek and Richard weeps while full of joy, holding her belly. Whether Rowena is being genuine about the pregnancy or it is another lie does not take away from the message: she manipulated Richard too much to be able to enjoy his tears of happiness— which are obviously the kind she should have aimed for.
Rowena comes close to telling Richard the truth behind her actions at one point in the film. She says, “there’s something wrong with me. I wanted to tell you as soon as I felt it and I should have but I… I am sick Richard. I am so sick.” However, when Richard asks if she is talking about cancer Rowena accepts that explanation as the easier of the two much like how Phil opts to lie about an affair. Viewers understand that lying in place of directness ruins relationships, so why on earth does each fetish plagued character feel the overwhelming need to hide their “dirty little secret”? Honesty becomes the obvious key to a healthy relationship and yet they continually ignore that fact in an to attempt not be misunderstood. Fetishes are so stigmatized characters delude themselves into thinking knowledge of their desires would be more detrimental to their relationships than lies and evasion.
Paul and Maeve
“I want to tell you something but I’m embarrassed. I need you not to judge me, okay? It’s important that you don’t judge me” -Maeve
Maeve has an oh so “common” rape fantasy which Paul is determined to fulfill. Paul himself has a foot fetish which perhaps drives his determination to make Maeve happy. Long story short, Paul does such a convincing job surprising her, Maeve decks him with her elbow and he ends up in the hospital. Maeve doesn’t get her desire but is so touched by Paul’s effort that she agrees to marry him. Maeve should have approached the topic differently rather than leave Paul with such a daunting task (suggesting S&M perhaps?) but the lack of communication in this relationship is what ties all the others together. Although they were the only ones open and accepting of one another they still had awful trouble fulfilling their fetishes, why?
One of the most telling scenes is when Paul turns to his friend for advice to please Maeve. His friend goes off on a rant about “good old run of the mill sex? [Why do] people have to complicate it with all this kinky shit.” He then goes on to ask Paul, “you don’t have anything like that eh? No weird fetish?” Paul says no and his awkward lie in response to his friend is the key to the movie’s culmination.
The word “weird” is aligned with fetishes. Rowena calls herself “sick.” Dan is “embarrassed.” Phil is ashamed. Everyone is hiding and lying about who they are because they live in a society that isn’t open to the discussion of any out of the ordinary sexual preferences. They are all trying not to be “one of those people” as frowned upon by Paul’s friend.
Steve is a recurring character who makes brief appearances throughout the film. He makes contact with each of the aforementioned fetishists. Steve moved into the neighborhood and is required by law to let everyone know he is a convicted sex offender. Steve seems to be open to talking about taboo… so based on the movie’s theme of promoting sexual transparency, why is he in an accident at the end?
When Steve introduces himself he offers people Golliwogs (an old brand of cookies). Although Steve has to talk about his sexual history he discretely tries to draw attention away from the words he’s saying. Steve uses the cookies as a distraction. Does he have a wife or is it a lie to disarm people– much like the cookies do? Maeve is too memorized at seeing a childhood favorite sweet to pay attention to what Steve tells her. Phil likewise get distracted by memories the golliwogs bring. Dan is too preoccupied with a fight he’s having with Evie to care what Steve says. Rowena and Richard are always arguing in the driveway so Steve never introduces himself to them properly.
Is Steve owning up to his past? No. What seems like willingness to share is a ruse. His acting implies he planned to continue his fraudulent behavior through the looks he gives Monica as he picks her up in the middle of the night. The afflicted fetishists don’t greet Steve with any form of disdain when one might assume a convicted offender would be met with resistance. The Golliwogs soften the blow of his news but do not neutralize it; it’s obvious Maeve, Phil and Dan were accepting of his circumstance. It is ironic they feel paranoid to expose themselves as simply having a sexual deviance while capable of being civil to Steve, a convicted sex offender (which should logically be more stigmatized in the sexual hierarchy of society). Steve’s end reflects the film sorting out these priorities: Fetishes have an undeserved bad reputation while sexual assault is unrelated and just plain bad.
Monica and Sam
Monica and Sam aren’t like the other couples in the film because it is during the movie that they first meet. Sam is deaf and Monica is a hired translator for his phone call. Sam chooses to call a sex hotline and Monica acts as the mediator. Although the situation starts out awkward for them by the end they are both laughing and enjoying the experience.
Monica brings this article’s theory to a beautifully ironic end. Monica and Sam are presented as a couple despite their lack of time spent together in comparison to the married and engaged couples featured. All the long term relationships fall apart due to a lack of communication and unwillingness to talk about their sexual preferences while Monica and Sam are fresh to the relationship, laughing and bonding. Sam is open about what he wants and Monica learns to adapt and enjoy the experience herself. All other couples refuse to communicate while Monica and Sam don’t even need to speak aloud to each other to be understood; communication does not end with verbal language.
Why does the film end with Monica sitting alone in Steve’s car oblivious to the crash that took place behind her? Think of it as a semi-literal metaphor for the vehicle of communication. Steve started the conversation of taboo in the film but his behavior did not reflect his reform. Phil who was in his own vehicle was in the midst of ridding his conscious only to crash in the process because it was too late and his relationship had already been ruined. Monica is shown as the only character spared from the relationship-crippling anxiety some sexual preferences (fetishes) induce in her society because she’s unafraid to be open with Sam about his desires. Steve can also be seen symbolically as a plague of miscommunication who touches all the main characters except Monica.
The Little Death does not portray the “the repercussions that come with sharing [fetishes],” it shows the destructive power of sexual repression, fetish stigma, and inability to communicate. Let us learn from Dan, Evie, Phil, Rowena, Maeve and Steve. Be open to discussion. Paul’s friend who rejected sexual fetishes was no more immune to relationship hiccups than the couples central in the movie— he and his partner end up in therapy all the same. The pursuit of achieving the “little death” should not condemn a relationship to death as well.
The Little Death. Dir. Josh Lawson. Perf. Damon Herriman and Bojana Novakovic. 2014. DVD.
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