'365 Days' is alarming, not sexy

The film's popularity goes to show that there's still work to be done dismantling pervasive rape culture narratives

New movie is far from romantic.
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Have you been thinking about sitting down to watch 365 Days? My advice: don’t. 

The Polish film, released on Netflix earlier this summer, has become a viral sensation. It’s not difficult to see exactly how 365 Days has managed to stand out so significantly from other ‘romance’ movies on the streaming platform; with most people relegated to their homes, now is the ideal time for a movie centred on lavish travel, wealthy extravagance, and kinky sex to succeed.

The film’s story follows the relationship between a woman named Laura and her captor, brooding Sicilian Mafia boss Massimo. Massimo kidnaps Laura and keeps her with him in his lair, giving her 365 days to fall in love with him before he’ll set her free. 

Spoiler alert: they’re in love before the year is up.

If you’re hoping for a plot-driven love story, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re looking to watch two attractive leads stare suggestively at each other for two hours, I recommend you turn just about anywhere else to get your fix.

It’s true that the story isn’t the main appeal for most of 365 Days’ viewers. Chalked full of longing stares, sexual tension, and its fair share of soft-core porn, the film has leveraged its suggestive subject matter into contentious mainstream success.  

Netflix’s description of 365 Days as “controversial” may be a bit of an understatement. Reactions to the film have been extremely polarized, with some praising it as a sex-positive fictional romp and others condemning it as perpetuating rape culture. 

Fans claim the movie’s critics are taking the nitty-gritty of the plot too seriously. But in a post-#MeToo entertainment landscape, is it really too much to expect on-screen romances to be consensual?

Marketing the kidnapping and coercion of a woman by a violent criminal as a love story flies directly in the face of the ideals of consent. No matter how desperately the movie tries to paint Massimo as a misunderstood romantic, the fact remains that he snatched Laura off of the street to hold her captive for a year in a compound with a giant creepy photo of her hanging over the bed, and no amount of soulful staring or shopping montages can offset the power imbalance in their relationship. 

365 Days approaches sex and romance from a very particular niche of the male gaze. The film plays into the rape culture fantasy of a woman who says no but really means yes—who doesn’t know what she wants until it’s forced on her. 

It’s not a risque film about kinks and rough sex—it’s a grossly irresponsible and deliberate romanticization of a non-consensual relationship. 

The movie is acutely aware of its own messy association with rape culture. It asserts right from the jump that Massimo’s crew doesn’t participate in sex trafficking, and Massimo promises Laura he won’t touch her without her permission.

But the bar for romantic male leads, particularly those targeted at women, must be higher than abstaining from human trafficking. It can no longer be enough to sell leading men who fail to even scrape the underside of the bar of basic human decency under the guise of being misunderstood, toxically masculine heartthrobs.  

The alarming popularity of 365 Days is a poignant reminder that there’s still much to be done to dismantle the pervading foundations of rape culture that influence our perceptions of sex and romance. Entertainment giants like Netflix must be more cognisant of the rhetoric they’re giving platform to, but everyday viewers need to engage critically with the media we consume, too. 

365 Days isn’t a worthwhile watch because it’s more than just a bad movie—it’s a reckless pander to the rape culture narratives we should be working to eliminate.

 

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