Lady Chatterley's Legacy in the Movies: Sex, Brains and Body Guys

Lady Chatterley's Legacy in the Movies: Sex, Brains and Body Guys

Lady Chatterley's Legacy in the Movies: Sex, Brains and Body Guys

Lady Chatterley's Legacy in the Movies: Sex, Brains and Body Guys


Titanic. Two Moon Junction. A Night in Heaven. Sirens. Henry & June. 9 Songs. Lady Chatterley. And more. A new "body guy" genre has emerged in film during the last twenty years-a working-class man of the earth or bohemian artist awakens and fulfills the sexuality of a beautiful, intelligent woman frequently married or engaged to a sexually incompetent, educated, upper-class man. This body guy exhibits a masterful athletic, penile-centered sexual performance that enlivens and transforms the previously discontented woman's life.

Peter Lehman and Susan Hunt relate a host of wide-ranging films to a literary tradition dating back to D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and an emerging body culture of our time. Through an engaging and compelling narrative, they argue that the hero's body, lovemaking style, and penis-revealed through extensive male nudity-celebrate conformity to norms of masculinity and male sexuality. Simultaneously, these films denigrate the vital, creative, erotic world of the mind. Just when women began to successfully compete with men in the workplace, these movies, if you will, unzip the penis as the one thing women do not have but want and need for their fulfillment.

But Lehman and Hunt also find signs of a yearning for alternative forms of sexual and erotic pleasure in film, embracing diverse bodies and vibrant minds. Lady Chatterley's Legacy in the Movies shows how filmmakers, spectators, and all of us can be empowered to dethrone the body guy, his privileged body, and preferred style of lovemaking, replacing it with a wide range of alternatives.


Titanic (1997) is still “king of the world” at the box office, grossing more money worldwide than any other film in history. For his epic tale, writerproducer-director James Cameron masterfully intertwines a broad array of genres: romance, action, adventure, and historical drama. The film belongs to yet another category, which has flourished virtually unnoticed for the past twenty years: the “body-guy” genre, as we call it. In the genre’s classic form, a beautiful, intelligent, but discontented woman is engaged or married to a cultured, intellectual, upper-class male. The woman’s discontent is quelled when a working-class man, often tied closely to the land, awakens her sexuality and energizes her life. The body guy’s masculinity and sexuality are so compelling that he rescues the woman from the stultifying world of the successful “mind guy,” who is boring, controlling, and, significantly, a poor lover who fails to recognize, let alone fulfill, her sexual needs.

Titanic contains many of the genre’s key conventions. From the ship’s lower tier, Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a penniless itinerant worker, sights the beautiful, well-dressed Rose (Kate Winslet), above him on a deck reserved for the far-from-penniless. He knows in an instant that her beauty is tinged with melancholy. With equal immediacy he knows that he has the right stuff to fix whatever is haunting her. The two meet when Jack prevents Rose from committing suicide. Soon, he is whisking her away from the upper-deck dining room and her cultured but arrogant fiancé, Cal (Billy Zane), to show her a good time at a “real party” in steerage. Cal quietly sips his cognac over conversation about politics and business while inarticulate men in steerage happily fall down drunk. The fun continues for Jack and Rose when they have firsttime sex in the back of a car in the ship’s frigid cargo hold. Even though they have just fled from Cal’s assistant, who pursued them with a gun, Jack’s sexual performance is perfect. In a graphic image, we see Rose’s hand slap against the rear window and trace a pattern in the steamy condensation, the PG-13 signal . . .

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