The plot of the new film 365 Days is proof of our society’s crippling misconceptions about sex and women. This erotic Polish film was met with controversy upon its release to Netflix in June. In the film, protagonist Laura is a dissatisfied young woman who is kidnapped by the dashing Italian mobster Don Massimo. Massimo says he will keep her prisoner for 365 days until she falls in love with him. What should have been a thriller about a woman trying to escape an evil sociopath instead becomes a romance, where sexual violence is portrayed as not only sexy but as a representation of love. With dialogue that belongs in a low-quality soap opera, 365 Days tells a completely implausible story that serves to demean women and fetishize sexual assault.
Throughout the movie, we see kidnapper Massimo acting extremely controlling and aggressive. Although he says that he won’t ‘touch’ Laura until she wants him to, he proceeds to choke, grope, and throw her around whenever she talks back. “I can’t be gentle,” he says, “I’m not used to tolerating disobedience.” However, Laura quickly becomes flattered that he chose her, and enjoys being pampered. After only a few days, she seems conflicted about whether or not she even wants to escape. Laura flirts with Massimo, despite her captor’s constant threats to rape her. After a week or two, Massimo serves Laura’s favorite meal and tells her, “I’d like you to teach me how to be gentle. For you.” Laura is so touched by this that she decides she will stay kidnapped. A month later, they get married.
Words cannot express how ridiculous and depraved this storyline is. From the beginning, Laura’s complacency suggests that she is secretly enjoying being held captive, and this notion quickly becomes a fact when Laura decides that Massimo is the love of her life. This takes us back to the age-old male fantasy that women enjoy being forced to do things. Many have described what happens in the film as Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim forms an emotional bond with their kidnapper as a means of survival. But while this condition is a product of severe trauma, Laura’s relationship with Massimo is depicted as a good thing. In another scene, Massimo is angry when Laura won’t give him a blowjob. So he does what any normal guy would do; he chains her up, and then brings in a sex worker to do it, saying, “This is what you’re missing out on.” Laura’s reaction to this horrifying display is to get very jealous and aroused.
In movies and TV we often see women fall into one of two categories: virginal or hypersexual. A virginal character may be childlike and hesitant to have sex, while a character like Laura is defined by her sexual desire and enjoys being objectified. Both of these roles center around a relationship with a man. While sexuality can be helpful in creating a dimensionality, it should never be a female character’s only personality trait. Instead of being angry about losing her freedom, Laura is happy to serve Massimo and sacrifice her identity. There are also five different scenes where Laura goes shopping or gets a makeover, constantly wanting to look good for the man who kidnapped her. Instead of a complex female character, she is portrayed as a human sex doll whose purpose in life is to please a man.
Though met with a lot of criticism, the film has been very successful in terms of views, especially among teens. This is deeply concerning since the moral of the story is one that is also found frequently in internet porn: that women like getting raped. Many argue that the movie was made for and by adults, and is meant for people mature enough to know the difference between right and wrong. But the very fact that people are enjoying this movie is a problem, and instead of trying to justify it, we need to take a look at why the idea of forced sex is so appealing to our culture. Furthermore, any kid with a Netflix account can easily watch this unsupervised. With films like 365 Days being so popular, it’s unsurprising that people, especially teenagers, don’t think they need to ask for consent. We may hear the phrase “no means no,” but at the same time face an onslaught of media saying, “no actually means yes.” In case anyone reading this had any doubts, no, women don’t want you to kidnap them and make them fall in love with you. Be considerate. Be respectful. And if you’re unsure, always ask before you act.