Animals: why that excruciating oral sex scene is so important

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Animals writer Emma Jane Unsworth has explained her very powerful reason for writing that very awkward sex scene.

Animals is the 2019 indie film that everybody is talking about. Examining female friendships through an unfiltered lens - warts and all -  Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat perfectly portray the flawed and fabulous nuances of changing relationships in our 30s. 

The films follows the story of best friends Laura and Tyler as they bounce around the clubs of Dublin, always in search of a good party and whatever booze and drugs they can get their hands on. But the friendship becomes increasingly toxic, especially when Laura falls in love with a straight-laced pianist. 

It’s a raw, bold film that isn’t afraid to bare all, but there is one scene which is particularly “excruciating” to watch… and it involves the film’s “indie guy”, poetry teacher Marty (Dermot Murphy).

Most of us have fallen for the indie guy at least once in our lives. You know – he’s the cute one that’s been sucked into a pair of black skinny jeans. That spends parties brooding in the corner. That is most likely to be found scribbling poetry into his notebook. That is seemingly always brushing his floppy hair away from his eyes. You know, that guy? Sure, I’ll be his muse for the night.

This is what happens to writer Laura (Grainger) in the film when she finds herself sitting on Marty’s sofa with him after a poetry saloon that he’s just held at his flat. The other guests have left, they’re a few tequila slammers down, a pile of white powder is sitting on the coffee table and there have been more than a few flirtatious glances. They are clearly very, very attracted to each other. So, there is almost a tangible pop of frustrations as soon as they start kissing. 

It’s exciting. It’s sexy. It’s… oh, very disappointing. The passion quickly fizzles when Marty takes some of the cocaine from the table and puts it on his tongue before performing oral sex on Laura. “Can you feel that?” he asks. “Erm, no - I find it quite off-putting actually,” she responds, before swiftly pulling her trousers up and heading home.

We might not all have been in this exact situation, but that feeling of being turned off a new sexual partner quicker than a flimsy light switch is oh-so relatable. 

And the scene was included for another, more important reason. As revealed by scriptwriter Emma Jane Unsworth, the incident is there to highlight another issue that women are increasingly finding themselves having to deal with in the bedroom — porn.

Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat star in Animals.
Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat star in Animals.

Unsworth, who adapted the Animals screenplay from her book of the same name, has said that porn is the reason why it was so important to make the scene as excruciating as possible.

“I wanted to make the sex scenes really awkward and excruciating. Especially that one, it’s like a porno thing that has happened to so many of my friends,” Unsworth said at a screening of the film, according the Independent.ie.

“So I put it in the film to ask: what is going on here?”

She elaborated on the scene, adding: “That is not good for the woman at all. She will get nothing out of that, so it felt really good to put that in there to liberate us from this ridiculous action.

“It’s like a record scratching, it’s not working. Stupid porno stuff. Stop.”

Even actor Dermot Murphy - who played Marty - said the scene “was hard to watch”.

Porn is more widespread than ever before, and we’re constantly being told how it negatively affects people’s sex lives. According to research by the American Urological Association in 2017, the more time men spend on free sites like PornHub, the less likely they are to be able to connect with a real-life partner in the bedroom. It also reported that around 20% of men reported using porn three to five times a week.

The scene in Animals illustrates just one of the - arguably, more absurd - ways that porn can impact a person’s relationship with sex.

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And, in case that wasn’t a big enough lesson, the scene also served as a simple but effective reminder that we don’t ever have to settle for less.

Images: Tamara Hardman/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

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