An imperfect but loving family gathers for a European holiday in Frankie, Ira Sachs’s movie about a cancer-ridden movie star. It’s one of those films in which a dysfunctional family is forced — by a wedding, an illness, or a funeral — to solve all their problems in one weekend. Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) is glamorous and dying. Her husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson) is already in mourning. They have two children, but not together; Sylvia (Vinette Robinson) is Jimmy’s daughter, and Sylvia is trying to divorce her husband, Ian (also inexplicably on this holiday). Frankie’s adult son, Paul (Jérémie Renier), is aimless and troubled, and she’s trying to set him up with her friend and frequent makeup artist, Ilene (Marisa Tomei).
Frankie feels like a standard dysfunctional weekend drama — not quite The Family Stone or Rachel Getting Married — until it drops the most bizarre bomb: Over tea, Paul opens his heart to Ilene, and explains the root of the quiet but present tension between him and Sylvia. Why would there be awkwardness between these two adult children? Reader: They fucked. A long time ago, and in a galaxy that is actually the very one we live in right now, what started as Sylvia and Paul sitting together and watching Grease on TV turned into Paul applying Sylvia’s sunscreen, which turned into Sylvia and Paul having sex, as adult Paul explains to Marisa Tomei. Frankie and Jimmy walked in on this behavior, and Paul was sent away to live with his father.
This was an upsetting scene to witness, because Marisa Tomei — lovely, confused, perfect — did not ask to hear such a weird story nor did she deserve to hear such a weird story. In response, she sort of sighs. What is the ideal response? Paul wasn’t really looking for sympathy, but maybe some kind of recognition: He’s lost his mother before, and he’s bracing himself to lose her again, but this time to cancer, not to sister-fucking.
This season on Élite, Netflix’s excellent drama about horny, snobby teens, the Blair Waldorf–esque queen bee Lucrecia (Danna Paola) is plagued by the presence of her rambunctious half-brother Valerio (Jorge López). Valerio is pure id, snorting any drug he can find, and shamelessly flirting with any living creature within a five-mile radius. Lu rolls her eyes and playfully pushes him out of her path, and it seems like regular brother-sister drama … until Valerio references their secret lovey-dovey history, when they used to kiss in secret before he was exiled from their family’s home. Sure, Lu is in an unstable relationship with a boy in love with another girl, but that doesn’t stop Valerio from pining for her. In some scenes, she relents and allows herself to kiss him.
In A Simple Favor, maybe the most audacious studio movie of 2018, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively swap secrets over martinis as their kids have a playdate upstairs. Emily (Lively) says that she and her husband had a threesome with a college TA; Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick) tells the story of her father’s funeral, which happened to be the day she met a brother she didn’t know she had. She and her brother got to talking, and … well, they fucked, too. “Brotherfucker,” Lively laughs. Then she says it again, the way anyone else on planet Earth would say the word motherfucker. “Bruuuuhhhhtherfucker!” In another reality, this is the most quoted line in the history of cinema. In this reality, however, it is just another example of this essay’s central thesis: There are a lot of movies and TV shows these days about sleeping with a man who happens to share your DNA — a man who happens to be your brother. There’s certainly a precedent: The Lannister twins on Game of Thrones, Cruel Intentions, The Dreamers, Dogtooth. Allow me to put on my Carrie Bradshaw voice, because I can’t help but wonder: Are people really just out in these streets … fucking their brothers like there’s no tomorrow?
Am I alone in this? Do people … do this? I did some Googling about incest, and nothing really damning came up, in either direction. I thought there would be a Bible verse about this, an occasion where Jesus and/or Moses said: “It’s super uncool to kiss someone in your family. Like very extremely not cool,” but I didn’t find anything along those lines. “Hunter,” my friend (and co-worker, and work dad) Alex said to me, when I brought this up at brunch last Sunday afternoon. “Are you kink-shaming?” I blushed. He then (perhaps over-) intellectualized it: “Could it be, like, the most extreme form of tribalism?” I sighed. Is it worth thinking that deeply about? I really don’t think so! In my mind, it’s pretty simple: If you want to have sex with someone, and that person is your brother, maybe don’t have sex with that person. Easy peasy! (Not that it is at all relevant here, but once upon a time Alex tweeted — and then deleted — an observation that boys who went to Brown are the best kissers. Kiss: boys from Brown University. Do not kiss: someone who is from the same womb that you are from.)
Really, I don’t know who needs to hear this but: Please don’t fuck your brother. I didn’t know that needed to be said, but apparently it does. Please don’t fuck your brother. Please don’t fuck your brother. Please don’t fuck your brother. I’m asking nicely: Maybe consider not fucking your brother. Maybe fucking our brothers is something we should all abstain from, I think? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t really know anything for sure. I’m an expert on literally nothing. But it just seems like a concept worth considering: If you’re on the fence about fucking your brother, my professional opinion is that maybe you should be on the side of the fence that does not include fucking a man who happens to be your brother.
Maybe it is a form of tribalism, or maybe incest is the last true taboo, or maybe it is narcissism run amok, or maybe a lot of people in Hollywood are on an email chain about this subject that I am not on. (For what it’s worth, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.) I think any of these things can be true, and perhaps all of them are true.
Anyway. Here is a way to not fuck one’s sibling, which I personally have found to be quite foolproof: If your sibling wants to kiss, do not kiss them. If they say something along the lines of “Haha let’s fuck??? Haha!” give them a small, charitable chuckle, and immediately leave that room. If the brother you didn’t know you had shows up to your father’s funeral and stares longingly into your eyes, say that there are canapés that you need to check on in the next room, and make a quick exit. Instead of trying to break up your sister and her boyfriend so you and your sister can get together, find another woman not related to you that you can start a dysfunctional relationship with of your very own. If you and your sister are watching Grease on TV, consider that maybe she just wants to watch and enjoy Grease in silence, and do not try to kiss her. End of instructions!
Correction: A previous version of this post misidentified Valerio as Lu’s stepbrother. He is her half brother. Vulture regrets the error, but also this changes nothing.