Ah, Valentine’s Day: that special time of year when couples celebrate their romance with candlelit dinners, carriage rides through the park, and mid-coital eye contact. Lovebirds with homebody tendencies may opt to play it low-key with a movie night in, and they’ll have loads of options via streaming and on demand to set the mood just right. But what of those searching for something that will instead kill the mood? Whether you’re flying solo and trying to bask in your own loneliness or looking to keep things chaste during a frosty date, a selection of films negating romance can come in seriously handy.
Having been described in the past as “the van Gogh of defusing sexual tension,” this writer has outlined six surefire strategies for sexlessness through cinema that would get the seal of approval from Liz “the Blocker” Lemon. Enjoy the following cold showers of the silver screen:
There’s a good reason that all rom-com characters cheekily turn around any bedside photos of their family members before getting down to shot-from-the-waist-up business. Parents are the last thing someone wants to think about in a charged moment (at least, one hopes). Flashbacks to experiences shared with Mom and Dad, wistfulness for the lost innocence of youth, and the wholly desexualized vibe of kids’ entertainment combine to form a powerful counteroffensive against attraction.
This strategy is most effective with a targeted strike, but in the event that you do not have specific knowledge of your mark’s personal favorites, a few universal touchstones can be safely relied on. The connecting thread here is the pain of that first terrible reckoning with death: Try one of the approximately 37 entries in the Land Before Time franchise, in which the specter of inevitable extinction always hangs over long-lashed dinosaur Littlefoot and his prehistoric pals. Or return to the classics with Old Yeller, taking any burgeoning flirtations out behind the shed to be shotgunned in the face. In the direst of situations, go right for the jugular with Bambi, the Citizen Kane of unleaded childhood-trauma fuel.
By the time a couple has made it into bed, a certain measure of grossness can slide; so long as neither party acknowledges that it happened, a touch of errant flatulence won’t bring the action to a screeching halt. In the moments directly prior, however, it’s a different story. Sneezing directly into a partner’s mouth instantly ruins the all-important couch make out, and the more transgressive corners of cinema provide us with no shortage of audiovisual mouth sneezes.
Just last year saw the release of a bold new standard in grotesquerie, though the morbidly curious will need a subscription to horror and genre streaming service Shudder to watch it. Multi-hyphenate musician Steve “Flying Lotus” Ellison poured blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of the viscous semen substitute known as Karo into his debut feature Kuso. No fun spoiling the most memorable scene, but be forewarned that it involves a large talking cockroach, funk godhead George Clinton’s distended rectum, a slime-covered man clad only in tighty-whities, and a whole lot of projectile vomit. Its closest contender would be Wetlands, which directs its geysers of fluids in a more distinctly carnal direction. When our proudly unhygienic heroine Helen cuts herself while shaving hair in an intimate location (no, more intimate than that), you shall share in her pain.
The Only Watch Once-ers
Distinct from the purely repulsive are those rarefied films so steeped in degradation and sadism that a human soul can only withstand one viewing. Scattered across the internet are generally similar lists of movies too painful to ever be revisited, and there’s no better time to deploy one of their shared bombs than on a night that is in need of torpedoing. These films transcend mere misery to offend every sensibility of good taste, inciting visceral rejections not limited to but definitely including nausea.
Pretty much the entire oeuvre of French provocateur Gaspar Noé falls into the classification, from the grueling Irreversible and its protracted Monica Bellucci rape scene to the 3-D depravity of Love. Same goes for Lars von Trier, who’s made a name for himself by contriving innovative new ways to torment great international actresses. (For the female circumcision passage of Antichrist, Charlotte Gainsbourg deserves a medal of valor in addition to her Best Actress prize from Cannes.) The most popular selection would probably be Darren Aronofsky’s narcotic descent into madness Requiem for a Dream. The notorious “ass to ass” scene isn’t just a turnoff; your genitals physically recede further into your body.
Relationship Horror Stories
There’s a unique displeasure to that small, elite corps of movies about what a claustrophobic hell sharing your life with someone else is. Bedecked with screaming matches and emotional assassinations, these are the ones that make a viewer want to devote themselves to a monk-like lifestyle as soon as they leave the theater. Here, years of closeness get repurposed for artillery in drag-down fights, as characters use their intimate knowledge of one another to more acutely wound them. The prevailing suggestion goes that marriage would necessarily breed contempt between people who become incompatible over time, that the basic concept has the flaw of overfamiliarity built into it.
To keep things lighthearted but still existentially despairing, the Knocked Up spinoff This Is 40 uncomfortably digs into the malaise of middle age and identifies the family unit as the source of unhappiness for Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s Pete and Debbie. This being a Judd Apatow movie, everything gets tied up in a socially conservative bow by the end, but there’s a solid hour of spousal animosity before they can get there, as the leads imagine how they’d murder one another if given the chance. For more extreme results, two-hander tragedies Revolutionary Road and Blue Valentine both more than get the job done. The dreamy pairings — a reunited Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the former, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in the latter — create a false sense of security, and then the films sucker punch their audiences by showing how the turns of life can make lovers into mortal enemies. You’ll want to caulk your heart shut once it’s all over.
A category of one, Christian Ditter’s 2016 film is in a class by itself. This rom-com about the adventures of four ready-to-mingle gals (Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, and Leslie Mann) in the Big Apple includes the following narration: “I’ve been thinking that the time we have to be single is really the time we have to get good at being alone. But how good at being alone do we really want to be? Isn’t there a danger that you’ll get so good at being single, so set in your ways, that you’ll miss out on the chance to be with somebody great?” This is the uncomfortable split personality of the film in microcosm, making half-hearted lunges at affirming independence and self-sufficiency before warning that they shall one day lead you to a death in solitude.
The film irresponsibly depicts being single like old movies glorify the refreshing glamour of cigarette smoking. For bosom buddies Johnson and Wilson, every day is a new circus of hijinks and hookups as they date their way through an eager, good-looking, and highly flexible city. Ditter suggests that a constant rotation of first dates and passing flings would be “fun” instead of “a constant exercise in humiliation and rejection,” and in doing so, makes all actual single people question what they’ve been doing wrong this whole time. Ditter’s film is the annoying friend who calls on a Saturday night to shout over a bar’s din that you just have to come out, it’s the weekend and it’d be a crime to let it go to waste. “If you’re not having fun being single,” the trailer teases, “you’re not doing it right.” If only the film could provide a more compelling answer to the question posed in its own title than “be hot, then get a boyfriend.”