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The Piano Teacher: Stigmatising BDSM

05 Oct

Michele Haneke’s Piano Teacher (2001) is a French erotic drama about – to paraphrase the blurb on the DVD cover – “a repressed woman in her late thirties”, Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) who lives with her tyrannical mother. The plot follows her relationship with her handsome student, Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel) and how her “claustrophobic” world shatters as she gives free reign to previously inhibited desires.

This film has nothing positive to say about BDSM, which is surprising since its protagonist is into BDSM. Judging by the blurb, you could be forgiven for thinking that the film was a statement about the acceptability of BDSM, since it has an educated, successful protagonist contrasting a vanilla and domineering mother, and the entire plot centres on the unleashing of BDSM desires.

Nothing could be further than the truth. The movie actually manages to stigmatise BDSM even more than E. L. James has done (by linking BDSM to childhood abuse and having an abusive, possessive hero and an idiotic passive heroine).

Here is a list of why this movie sucks, because it is so bad that I can’t write it out properly:

Childhood abuse/current emotional abuse raises its ugly head as the possible cause of BDSM desires, as Erika’s mother is abusive

BDSM is conflated with self-harm as Erika cuts her genitals deeply for no apparent reason and derives no sexual satisfaction. There is a lot of blood. Even I, who wants my labia pierced in a BDSM context and has attempted to drink Roland’s blood, was disturbed by this scene, as it smacks of self-harm and not play.

Walter is the pursuer and is sexually aggressive, even jumping up and leaning over a stall door in a public toilet to watch Erika (his professor) using the toilet. Erika is passive to his advances – reminiscent of stereotyped gender roles and the double standard.

Erika has incestuous desires towards her mother and attacks her sexually; this is untypical of the BDSM community.

Erika is not independent; she still lives with her mother in a small rented flat. Again this is untypical of BDSM-ers and, considering a professor’s salary, is unrealistic.

Walter is disgusted upon knowing his girlfriend is kinky. This isn’t realistic and is hurtful, yet Erika just takes his disgust and does not call him on it. Hardly the behaviour of a professional.

Erika deliberately injures her pupil’s hand permanently by putting smashed glass in her coat pocket, then pretends to commiserate with the pupil’s mother. BDSM is confused with psychopathic tendencies and criminal behaviour.

Erika displays hypocrisy by blaming her pupils for looking at porn, as it is degrading to women, but then she watches porn herself.

Erika self-harms with a knife in public.

When Erika finally gets what she wants – a rape fantasy which initially angered and disgusted Walter – it doesn’t turn out to be as good as she thought it would be, and she is upset by it. This is the end of the film. This is a very negative portrayal of BDSM, and an explicit suggestion that BDSM is dangerous and emotionally damaging. It could also be taken as a dim view of female sexual expressiveness, as realised desire turns out to be traumatic for the woman but satisfying for the man.

In sum, the protagonists are a psychotic criminal with a history of abuse and repressed desires (Erika) and a sexually aggressive person (Walter), both of them in need of treatment to ensure they do not cause any risks to those around them. This is not representative of BDSM. The entire film portrays both BDSM and female sexuality as perverted, dangerous, criminal and destructive – or perhaps the implicit message is that only a disturbed, traumatised individual would like BDSM, or assert her sexuality?

 
3 Comments

Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Film

 

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3 responses to “The Piano Teacher: Stigmatising BDSM

  1. thedreamingsub

    October 16, 2012 at 8:28 am

    “by linking BDSM to childhood abuse and having an abusive, possessive hero and an idiotic passive heroine”

    You are the first person to state an actual reason as to why they hate those books, other than they are BDSM for the Vanilla world. Well done.

    Maybe others said their reasons and I just wasn’t paying attention. It’s possible.

     

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