Anomalisa: The SSL Review

I went to see the  movie Anomalisa recently. It's a new claymation movie from Charlie Kaufman, and low n' behold it had one SSL Reviewable scene - a long scene involving a one night stand that lasted from the entrance into the hotel room to the end of the sex with no time lapse in between. It is an integral scene to the movie, and I will be SSL reviewing it for your reading pleasure. SSL Reviews are exclusively about the depiction and discussion of female orgasm and masturbation in a movie; particularly focusing on the realism and what these depictions and discussions add to the cultural conversation about lady-gasms and female sexuality.You can find all the SSL Reviews HERE.

The Intro...It's Complicated 
You see, the female in this scene gets a dick moved inside of her for 30 seconds and vocalizes an orgasm simultaneously with the dude who's up in it. The truth is vaginal stimulation does not orgasms make, and if I don't see any sign of external clitoral stimulation, as is the case in this this scene, then I'm calling bullshit. (Seriously, though, the science is with me on this...I explain more HERE and HERE).

As you might imagine, I have strong and particular feelings about this scene, but discussing it is tricky. On the surface this scene is two strangers interacting in a physically orgasmic experience. However, if one were to think about this any deeper and with thought to realism, what we are actually seeing is a man having a physical orgasm and a woman who, for whatever reason, probably only vocalizes an orgasm. What is seeming to happen on the surface, and what is actually happening are two very different things, and in both real life and in this movie's depiction of real life, that difference goes largely unnoticed in a way that seems crazy if the gender roles were reversed.

We would question an orgasm like this if it were gender reversed
Imagine a scene in which a naked woman grinds her clit against a naked man's upper thigh until she comes, and the naked man vocalizes with her as if he is coming too. His penis isn't really being touched, except maybe it brushes against her body here and there, yet he comes when she comes? At least a few people writing about it would be all like, "what was up with him pretending to come - I don't think his dick was even touching." That he came,  yet it didn't physically seem like he should have would be an aspect of the viewer's  understanding of the story and the characters and their relationship to each other. Like, was he just straight up faking to make her feel good, or was he so full of emotion that he had some kind of emoto-gasm, or does he not know what an orgasm is except that it happens when the woman has her orgasm....or did the filmmakers just not write a very realistic scene? We don't ask these questions of a scene like the one that exists in Anomalisa because although it's as physically silly as the one I just described, it's also so typical of what we see that the silliness becomes invisible. It's a strange situation, but it makes me see the critical praise of this scene (for instance "the most heartfelt sex scene in 2015") as slightly annoying and a little bit of a disturbing confirmation of how twisted our culture's view of sex and female orgasm is.

Surface realism vs. actual realism
The thing is, on one level I see this scene as completely realistic; an accurate account of something that might easily happen, as if there was a camera in the room when a hook-up like this actually went down in real life. On the other hand I see this scene as a completely narrow and surface look at what was really going on and what this type of sexual interaction would actually mean. The actions in this scene are not realistically things that would make her orgasm, and it seems silly to me to assume that her vocalizations were clearly the result of a physical orgasm. Isn't it very possible she faked that orgasm, and if she did, doesn't that change the meaning of this scene? It's not an out of bounds possibility at all. One night stands are notoriously non-orgasmic for women, and women fake orgasms all the time for lots of different reasons. I may be wrong, but within the context of the movie, that possibility didn't seem to be considered, and that indicates to me a larger cultural problem with our understanding of the female orgasm.

On that note, I think it's time to describe the scene to you. There are spoilers - lots of them. It's chock full of spoilers actually, so just be warned. Sorry about that, but I need to include context to write about this, so here you go. Get ready for detailed descriptions of claymation sex.

The Big 'Ol Sex Scene
First off, from my understanding of every article I have read, the creators took great pains to make this scene realistic. They were acutely aware that claymation sex could be ridiculous (like in Team America), and they didn't want that. They wanted the bodies to look realistic and the scene to feel realistic, and they intentionally made it to unwaveringly last from beginning to end with no time skips. It was meant to be intimate in that way.

Some Background
The man is Michael. He is famous, rich, older, educated, British and everyone looks and sounds the same to him. Lisa is young, Midwestern, not well-educated or rich or successful, and she is in his same hotel to see him speak, because she LOVES him and his book. Her voice, he finds, is the only one he hears that doesn't sound like everyone else's (a big part of the movie is that everyone else he sees has the same basic face and the same voice). He is completely infatuated with her for this reason, seeks her out, finds her with a friend, takes them both out for drinks at the hotel bar, and then asks her (in front of the friend) to come back to her room, which she shyly and nervously does.

She reveals that she doesn't ever get this kind of attention, that guys always like her friend over her, and that she has a small scar on her face that she is utterly ashamed of. She also reveals that she hasn't had sex in 8 years and even then it was with her fat, 60 year old boss that just pursued her because he figured she'd do it.

The Kissin'
They end up with him sitting on the edge of the bed and her sitting on the desk chair facing him. Michael keeps telling her how lovely and amazing and unique she is and keeps telling her to talk and sing, which she does. After she sings a rendition of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, he gets emotional about her voice. He goes over to kiss her on the lips and then sits back down. She is surprised, says thank you and asks if he'll kiss her again.

He does. He gets up, takes her drink to set on the desk, pulls her to her feet and kisses her for a moment. Then he takes her hands and steps over to the end of the bed where they kiss sitting side by side for a moment and then they lean back so they are laying and kissing side by side. After about 2 seconds, she sits up abruptly, and says "I haven't been with anyone for 8 years."

She has her arms crossed and she seems quite nervous to me. He replies. "Let's just lie together and you can tell me about your day." She softens a bit and says, "Yes, okay."  She relaxes, and they are laying on their backs next to each other. She quickly becomes her giddy boisterous self again, talking about her day and even singing Girls Just Wanna to Have Fun in Italian.

Here they are just after she lays back. I found this HERE

The Pushy Kissin'
After about 45 seconds he turns towards her up on an elbow, and not 30 seconds later he's all kissin' up on her. She doesn't really react to it at all, and he tells her to keep talking, which she does - without any acknowledgement of his kisses on her face and neck, or his hands on her waist. No moans or body movement towards him. She keeps her hands well inside her personal space and doesn't touch him. She is simply moving forward in her one woman conversation. I would say she is pretty clearly ignoring his advances for a full 100 seconds until he moves and kisses her on the mouth.

Here Michael's startin' to get all up in her space while she ignores him. I found this HERE.

Again, she doesn't really retaliate with her body language, and still really avoids touching, grabbing, and turning towards him as he quickly unbuttons her shirt, and takes off his jacket, and moves his hand down over the crotch area of her skirt. She giggles and moves his hand away. She says it tickles, and he apologizes, saying he won't touch her there, but she says, "no, it's okay," and that he can touch her there. She even moves his hand back there.

She finally, at this point, turns her head to kiss him, but then it gets a little creepy. He asks her if she talks during sex. She says she doesn't know but she could do either - she's very matter of fact and a little worried in the I-hope-I'm-doing-this-right kind of way. He's says he'd like it, or she could maybe do a little moaning. She's all like, "I could do that," and then she lets out a wierd, creepy moan, which he likes. (On a side note: Telling a woman directly that you want her to moan is a great way to clue her in that you want her to vocalize her appreciation of you whether she's really into it or not...maybe she'll assume faking an orgasm while you come would be pleasing too, amiright???). Immediately he's pulling her skirt up and putting his hands up to her crotch. He asks if that feels okay to which she apologetically says, "Yes, sorry. I'm just a little shy," to which he's all like, "it's fine," but continues to get more on top of her. In the process, though, he leans on her hair. She says something like, "Ow my hair," and they both apologize.

The point here is that to me, this whole scene looks like he's getting aroused and wanting to get it on, but she seems absolutely not aroused, and kinda half-heartedly moving along with things hoping to please him, and maybe even throwing out small stalls like saying she's ticklish or shy.

Rounding Third
Lisa then says, "maybe if we can just turn a little bit, like this," which ends him up on top of her. He asks her if that's better, and she says, "much." Then he immediately starts to go down on her.

Lisa: worried "oh...oh..."

Michael: "What, you don't want to do that?"

Lisa: "No, I'm just...I'm kinda shy about that too."

Michael: "Don't be shy. It'll be good. I really want to."

Lisa: "OK. OK, go ahead."

She lays back. He pulls her skirt up, takes the panties off, and starts eating. We can't see any actual lady junk, but we see a POV of his face in between her legs. He looks to be putting his mouth on the vulva part. It looks realistic enough as a way to eat a lady into orgasm.

After 12 seconds he says, "You've been quiet. Is it no good?"

She leans up and says, "No, it's fine, it's good. It's, um, just a little bit more gentle maybe at first, maybe."


"It's okay," she says back nervously.

In an SSL reviewable way, I like what's going on here. I like her advice to him. You really do need to warm that clit up first for sure. Plus I simply like that there is discussion about what she likes. However, there is the slight insinuation in this exchange that if a woman isn't sounding like a porn star, then she's not enjoying it. Maybe she was quiet because it was good and she was concentrating on that sweet, sweet tongue. That's me getting picky, though, so I'll drop that. I appreciate that he asked and took the advice - can't be mad at that.

So, Lisa lays back and closes her eyes.

Michael: "Better?"

Lisa: "Yes" She says yes in a very sexual way. This is maybe the first time it feels to me like Lisa is really getting aroused.

35 seconds later (these times I'm giving are not random things I made up. I time this shit) she starts to vocalize like an orgasm is on the way. She even grabs his hand. but then to my great dismay, she says, "can you come up here please?"

This time, he puts up no fight the way he did when she said she was shy earlier. He doesn't say, 'I want to make you come with my mouth.' No, this time he gets right up and obliges her by taking off his clothes and putting his penis in her.

An Aside To Lisa About Getting That Puss Ate Out
Listen, when a man on a one night stand (or anytime really) goes down on you and verbally tells you he wants to do it. Let him. If it's just a bluff, call it. If he's just cool, cool - he'll enjoy doing it. Let him eat you the hell out until you come hard against his lips. Enjoy that shit. You deserve it, and honestly it doesn't happen often enough to intentionally cut it short just before the orgasm. Chances are not in your favor for being able to climax during the impending intercourse. You might have just lost your orgasm chance. Even if you felt you could come while he was up in it...maybe you can rub the clit against him or something...still why? You can find any man, any time to stick his dick in you, but getting the mouth business is a special thing. Oh Anomalisa, I can only assume you didn't want to bother him too much, didn't want to take too long, maybe felt too nervous and wanted to get to pleasing him. Maybe, like so many of us, you really only know the oral stuff as foreplay, so when you started getting real excited, it seemed like a sign to move to the next step - the main course. I mean this whole thing wouldn't be complete unless he pumped in you, right? Oh well, next one night stand keep that dude down there for as long as you need.

The 'Ol In And Out
Anyway, Michael gets up there. They are both making gentle sexy sounds like they are clearly aroused. They scoot to the top of the bed taking off their clothes and throwing back the covers. After 55 seconds of negotiating all the clothes and bedding, they are both naked, and he gets in between her legs, missionary style and puts the dick in. For 31 seconds they have intercourse. The sex wasn't all hard poundy, but it was definitely in and out stuff, not grindy stuff. Their hands where on eachother's backs not on her clit, and her body was pretty motionless under his. She wasn't bucking up against him or grinding into him. After those oh-so-heavenly 31 seconds, they both begin orgasming simultaneously - lasting about 18 seconds.

The Overview
That's it. An incredibly self-conscious, sexually inexperienced woman who doesn't seem to be particularly aroused gets 45 seconds total of mouth on vulva (with some of that 45 seconds taken up by talking about being more gentle), then, when she's close to orgasming, she pulls him up and they non-sexually arrange and take off clothes for 50 seconds. Then he puts his dick in and out of her for 31 seconds and they both orgasm. I think that's pretty sensible right? Oh and without going into the details about why and all that, Michael was an ass to her the next morning. He went 180 on her.

I'm Just Saying It Was A Little Coercive, Okay.
But let me circle back and talk about another aspect of this scene that struck me. It's not specifically related to orgasm, but I think it is a little, and it's relevant to this conversation. I'm gonna call this sex a little coercive, but in the most normal and acceptable of ways. I'm not calling claymation rape here - not by far - but I'm calling out something...bad sex?...ill mannered sex?...thoughtless sex?

Honestly, nothing Michael did seemed out of the ordinary, but man, if this is normal, we need to change our normal. Hang with me here. I know this is a touchy subject. To begin, I want to be clear that mine is not the only way to view this scene, and judging from the reviews and discussion of the movie and the scene so far, my way is not common. I get that this scene might just seem like a shy girl needing a little coaxing before she's ready - it's a common narrative. I get that this scene could be viewed as a very tender and kind depiction of a suffering man who found a momentary spark in another person. He looked past that shy, insecure woman's outer flaws and pushed her gently past her comfort zone to enjoy life (sex) in a way she didn't think a girl like her was allowed. Even if he did end up being not so great to her in the end, they shared something very human and lovely. So, yeah, I get it, and I think that's closer to how most critics are taking it.

However, it could also be viewed as a strangely accurate and poignant, yet probably unintentional, reflection of how the cultural norms and common sexual scripts leave little room for the female orgasm, deemphasize the importance of non verbal clues, and put men and their sexual needs with the upper hand in sexual negotiations: a scene meant to be ordinary in an effort to humanize it, but in it's ordinariness and unwavering, start-to-finish format ended up highlighting how messed up our ordinary sex script really is.

Sexual Negotiation
In the end, that's what sex is - a negotiation between two people. In a one night stand in particular it is an incredibly delicate negotiation with tons of unknowns. I think in a better world the norm would be that each person is hyper sensitive to the other person's non-verbal clues, to err on the side of respecting boundaries, and to pay attention to power dynamics and how that might affect the negotiation. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the norm in our world, and I don't think it was in Michael and Lisa's world either.  Michael, I would argue, was not taking Lisa's cues...at least the one's he didn't want to take. He did notice she wasn't making vocalizations (and we know how much Michael wants and needs to hear her unique voice) during his cunnilingus, and he did take her 'ask' for him to "come up here" as a sign to immediately get naked and put his dick in her.

Granted, Michael was never forceful, but the huge power imbalance that existed between these two would allow for gentle coaxing to say a whole lot. He failed to care that his situation created a power dynamic that put Lisa in a bad negotiating position, and didn't hesitate to coax certain sexual acts forward despite her clearly not being eager. Lisa was not an enthusiastic 'yes' through most of the sex act. I don't know about you, but if I signal to someone to do something and they keep ignoring me and changing the subject, I'm gonna take that as a soft no. For instance, when Lisa abruptly clammed up, exited their kissing, and told Micheal she hadn't had sex in 8 years, that's a sure clue to slow down and let her lead. He was all like, 'cool we'll just lay here together,' but he couldn't stop moving forward towards what he wanted for very long. He started kissing on her less than a minute later. She completely ignored him with both her voice and her body for over a minute and a half. That's a pretty strong non-verbal 'no' if I've ever seen one. He continued until she stopped ignoring him. Maybe she decided she wanted to go further at that point, but maybe she was taking his clues and realized resistance was futile, thinking it was easiest just to kinda go with it.

Consensual Is A Low Bar To Set
I think a lot of women have made that decision, and it is our decision. It's technically consensual. It's certainly not rape, and Michael probably didn't feel like he was coercing her. Lisa may or may not feel icky about it - it's kinda personal, but the bigger point here is that this sexual situation was kind of coercive, yet that element went largely unnoticed. Whether the filmmakers intended it or not, we audience members were exposed to an unwavering look at this ridiculously common but less than ideal sexual situation and simply didn't think its grossness worthy or remarkable enough to comment on.

I know it seems picky, but seen clearly, this was not an enthusiastically consensual experience, and it put Lisa in a situation where she may have allowed things to happen that she felt conflicted about. Nobody likes feeling out of control like that in a personal negotiation. Nobody likes thinking back and feeling like they got pushed into something because they didn't know how to speak up or even what to say and how to say it if they did.

Orgasming Makes a Difference
Now, humor me for a minute and just think about this situation through the surface understanding - where 1. Lisa orgasmed along with Michael vs. 2. the interpretation I'm putting forward in which those vocalizations were quite possibly faked. Being gently coaxed outside of your comfort zone into an orgasm, as is the case in interpretation 1, is one thing, but being coaxed into a situation where a dude has an orgasm on you and you feel like you need to vocalize an orgasm along with him for whatever reason, as is the case for interpretation 2, is another situation all together. One is not so bad - maybe even a nice surprise, and the other seems a little pointless and slightly regretful when you look back on it. I'd like to reiterate that the latter interpretation of this sex scene makes more sense given the context clues of this movie, and it's insane that this isn't more clear to more people.

This Type Of Shitty Sex Might Be Normal, But Women Are Beginning To Question Why It Happens So Much
Just so you know, I haven't gone insane. I am still aware Michael and Lisa are fictional and this scene is just a scene, but my point here is that this depiction feels real and feels average - which to me just brightly highlights how deeply this type of sexual script is ingrained in all of us as normal. And, as I said above, if this is normal, we need to reevaluate how good this normal sexual script is for ladies and our orgasms.

If you think I'm being a crazy, judgey, psycho about this, then let me just say in my defense that I'm not making this up. Women are really beginning to question this type of script; starting to point out how often normal sex means bad sex for the ladies and linking that not to random experiences we all have where bad communication leads to less than great times, but to larger cultural norms that more often leave ladies with the short end of the stick in the bedroom. (You can find recent articles about this 'bad sex' situation HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE - to start you out).

Now, like I said, discussing my thoughts on this is complicated. This is not an unrealistic scene. One-night stands just like this happen all over the world, so in a very big way, my beef is not with the movie per se. My beef is with the culture that allows a scene like this to unquestionably represent the thing critics and probably the filmmakers believe it to be; a brief but mutual sex act ending in orgasm for two strangers. I cannot say what exactly Kaufman's intentions were with this scene, but that viewers/reviewers didn't seem to pick up on the normalized coercion and the fact that the female character orgasmed without physical actions that would likely cause orgasm seems incredibly weird and problematic to me. What does that say about how people out there in real life understand sex and lady-gasms, and about what sex like that depicted in this movie means in women's lives?

To me, I see this scene, and I see a woman that had bad sex and a man who was kinda ill-mannered in his pursuit to orgasm. She didn't actually come. She wasn't really even that into it, and then the next morning, she got shit on by the dude. To me, this is an all too real scene reflecting the bullshitty sexual situation real women exist within - one where our orgasms are so misunderstood that an unrealistic depiction of it isn't even on the radar - (seriously, intercourse does not a ladygasm make).

Unlike a lot of the reviews I read about this movie, I don't see the scene as touching, or human connecty-ish, or a brief piece of kindness that was lovely for the time it existed even if it was over quickly. Those represent to me surface takes that simply don't incorporate realistic understandings of female orgasm or sexual negotiation.

So, in this light, I can't look at the Anomalisa scene without thinking how blind it is to the modern female voice on sexual experiences and how clearly the reaction to this scene highlights the larger blindness (even from us females ourselves) to the realities of female orgasm.

The SSL Vulva Rating
The orgasm in this scene was had under rather unrealistic circumstances. I've made that point very clear, and certainly that's not good for the vulva rating. The scene also embodies and further normalizes incredibly common sexual scripts that ignore the realities of female orgasm and favor male sexual needs. So, not only does this movie casually imply that actions that are not likely to make a woman orgasm actually do make a woman orgasm, it also implies that the very common but slightly coercive and non-orgasmic kind of sexual experience depicted between Michael and Lisa is actually kinda sweet and mutually orgasmic. It is not progressive, but in a way I appreciate it because I think its glaring thoughtlessness about an authentic female sexual experience makes it stand out as an interesting and informative piece of sexual history.

I wonder if one day we will look back at this scene the way we look back at scenes of John Wayne slapping a lady and then kissing her deeply. You can't blame it for being made at the time, but now it's just so archaic and strange.

This movie gets a 2 vulva rating...cause at least she got ate out a little and the eating out looked realistic for the short time it was on screen.


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