I mentioned in my Sundance review of Violation that I’d watched several R-rated horror movies and yet none until Violation had asked me to confirm my birthdate. The difference? Not blood or guts or skinned animals or severed limbs or gouged eyeballs; the difference was a mere erection. Erect penises are apparently more horrific than mass murder or treating body parts like fire wood. Pleasure, too, has asked me to “prove” I’m legal, and in some respect, the erections here are indeed horrific.
Twenty year old
Linnéa Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) leaves small town Sweden for Los Angeles with aims to become the world’s next big porn star. This road is indeed paved with many, many erections, and Bella’s over the top, completely fake reactions to them. She knows how to play the game, but the path to superstardom isn’t quite as straight forward as she’d imagined. To get noticed, she agrees to increasingly more toxic situations and ends up getting fucked.
Director Ninja Thyberg has clearly spent a long time immersed in the culture of pornography to present such a grounded and evocative picture of its reality. Deconstructing its inherent misogyny and the ubiquitous privilege of male positions in all aspects of the business, Thyberg tells her story with equal parts humour and humiliation, all of it raw and unfiltered. It’s no surprise to anyone that the porn industry is predatory, yet Thyberg strives to share a perspective that represents sex work in a positive way. The script doesn’t judge Bella for her choices or their consequences, understanding that viewers will bring enough judgment of their own, making the viewing experience dependent on each person’s own prejudices and expectations.
Ninja Thyberg casts actress Sofia Kappel as the beautiful blank slate, allowing us to use her as a human Rorschach test, but she meta-casts the rest of the film with porn insiders. Giving Pleasure a sense of realism are Chris Cock (Thrilla in Vanilla 8, Facesitting Tales 4), Dana DeArmond (Semen Sippers 7, Ass Eaters Unanimous 15), John Strong (Double Stuffed 6, Cum Fart Cocktails 6), Charlotte Cross (Cum Fiesta, Electrosluts), Xander Corvus (Foot Worship, Turbo Sluts 2), Evelyn Claire (My First Interracial 11, Lesbian Strap-on Bosses 4), Kendra Spade (Creampie My Bush!, Giant Dicks in Asian Chicks 3), Axel Braun (Busty Hotwives, Squirt Class 2) and more. So many more. Pleasure doesn’t lack for authenticity.
Arriving at LAX, a customs agent asks Bella whether she’s in the country for business or pleasure – you can guess at the answer she gives with a smirk – but the film itself refuses to see these terms in black or white. Certainly Thyberg makes clear that Pleasure isn’t here for our pleasure, it brilliantly and almost magically avoids sexualizing Kappel even while hauling her through scenes of double anal and rape-adjacent threesomes. In this film, the camera gives Bella a certain power that most porn starlets will never have: agency. It’s actually a story you’ve seen a million times before: a young ingenue climbing her way to the top. If you fail to recognize it, it’s only because you haven’t seen it wearing a strap-on before. Oscar Wilde once apparently said “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” And in this film, those words have never been more true.