Futuristic utopias appearing in sci-fi films are nothing new, and the way they represent sex onscreen tends to vary quite a bit between projects. In our tech-obsessed age, it’s common for viewers to anticipate visions of tailor-made sex robots you can also dance with, like in Ex Machina, or of cybersex. After all, VR porn was a clear priority for Oculus Rift).
But in Drake Doremus’ new sci-fi drama Equals, which will premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) fall in love in an egalitarian, emotion-free society where sex is strictly forbidden - in fact, the urge to have sex is even considered a “disease” on par with HIV. That’s right: no Tinder or Snapchat, no sexting, and certainly no porn. Inconceivable, right?
Even if the Singularity is nigh, it’s definitely interesting to note film directors’ widely varying futuristic visions of something so primal and ultimately human. In these sci-fi films, the future of sex remains an anything-goes zone where you can expect everything from the robotically sexless to the hyper-fetishized:
According to David Cronenberg’s dystopian film — inspired by the eponymous novel by J.G. Ballard — the cure-all for the increasing number of young men who suffer from erectile dysfunction is a good bang-up suffered from a car crash. And you thought you had crazy fetishes and sexual obsessions — well, forget your girlfriend’s feet or your whip collection for a second. After surviving from a brutal car wreck, the only way benumbed protagonist James Ballard (James Spader) can get his rocks off is by transforming car accidents, including bodily injury, into erotic events. But it would be too reductive to claim that Crash is only a coldly executed exercise in esoteric erotica, or a commentary on our hypersexualized society. Sex just turns out to be an extended metaphor for man’s increasingly self-destructive relationship with technology.
Thankfully, humans are still allowed to engage in sex in this intelligent and chilling futuristic thriller, even though, technically, Irene (Uma Thurman) should be bonking fellow Valid Jerome (Jude Law) instead of second-class invalid Vincent (Ethan Hawke). Vincent’s determination to mingle with the rich and successful echelon of society - who have been genetically engineered to be, in all aspects, superior - not only poses ethical questions about the whole nature v. nurture argument, but now appears increasingly prescient, as we find ourselves living in an increasingly elitist, class-divided society ruled by the 1 percent.
Ridley Scott’s masterful dystopian neo-noir - starring Harrison Ford as retired cop Rick Deckard - needs little introduction. In 2019, human beings still have sex with each other, but they also do the nasty with replicants — human-like androids — like Pris (Daryl Hannah), a “basic pleasure model” born on Valentine’s Day and especially designed for sex work in the off-world colonies. In Pris’ case, being smarter, faster, and stronger than everyone else means that remaining a cyber prostitute doesn’t really suit her, so, as we all know, she ends up kicking Harrison Ford’s ass instead.
Even though this sci-fi action blockbuster from Michael Bay takes place in the middle of the 21st century, it’s hard to believe that human clones Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and his crush Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) don’t make end up boning. But then again, in the underground facility where they are being carefully monitored and treated like little more than the test-tube creations, female-male proximity is “forbidden.” As their imprisonment is definitely the most frustrating aspect of the film, it’s a huge relief when Lincoln and Jordan jailbreak together. Bay’s heavy-handed explosions, as well as his weighty moral conundrum of human cloning, end up little more than an afterthought.
In this loosely-plotted outer space sex fantasy based on Frenchman Jean-Claude Forest’s adult comics, there’s no human sex in the 41st century. Instead, Earthlings pop exaltation-transference pills, pressing their palms together so that their “psychocardiograms are in perfect harmony.”
But then, surprise! In an astounding array of Bond Girl-ish outfits and bee-hive hair, interstellar representative Barbarella (Jane Fonda) ends up fucking her way though the universe anyway, in search of a missing scientist in possession of a positronic death ray. When Barbarella is captured by the Concierge and placed inside his Excessive Machine (“Orgasmostron” in the french version), instead of dying from pleasure, as the Concierge predicts, Barbarella’s ecstatic writhing causes the machine to overload. Even the high-technology of the future is unable to keep up with the unbridled power of Barbarella’s libido.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
Adapted from Aldous Huxley’s seminal 1932 science fiction novel, this TV movie takes place in a high-tech dystopian future where humans are genetically engineered and niched into a rigidly stratified class society of Alphas, Betas, Deltas, etc. (see Gattaca and The Island above). Under the authoritarian dictate of the World State, not only is a shallow and hedonistic lifestyle encouraged - complete with Soma pill-popping and recreational sex prescribed for stress relief - concepts like monogamy, chastity, and romantic relationships are severely frowned upon, and even considered vulgar. However, if you ever feel the need for anything beyond basic materialism, there’s always a “spiritual” ritual available that involves group hypnosis and climaxes in a sex orgy.
This Japanese cult cybersex film from 2000 showcases replicants who have dildos for arms, as well as subjects collating sex energy for corporate databases. When it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, people walked out. But of course, a good sex film is more than just about sex. Incorporating hypnotic, swirling images that merge gender-blurred porn actors, ’90s-heavy computer graphics, and the occasional romp into anime territory, Shu Lea Cheang also uses the world of cybersex as a distorted reflection and measurement of our technological advancement.