Why the graphic sex in Destricted is more than porn.

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Sept. 25 2006 4:44 PM

Dirty Pictures

Why the graphic sex in Destricted is more than porn.

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The difference, of course, is that most of us will never beat down a perp or waltz around an enchanted lake. Some of the kids Clark interviews are harsh and misogynistic, and some are gentle and shy (one worries that he's not well-endowed: "You're fine," Clark reassures him from off-camera). But all of them have been raised on porn: Like a lot of people, they live life through the movies, but their movies are full of sex acts. What was, for generations past, at best a furtive magazine hidden under a mattress, is for them a nonstop video, utterly explicit and ubiquitous as incandescent light. As a result, they've taken the conventions of the genre as givens: Anal sex is standard fare, for example, and so are threesomes, stark forms of dominance and submission, and ejaculating on a woman's face. The women have darker childhood stories to tell, or at least to hint at, but they, too, assume that porn-movie sex is just how it's done. All the performers, male and female, shave their genitalia, because porn stars shave. Impaled is like some licentious modern update of DonQuixote, or MadameBovary, in which ordinary characters indulge in fantastic tales with such abandon that they lose the power to tell the representation from real life, and then act out a tragicomedy that's both harsh and touching.

In large part this is because the kid Clark selects is the most likable of the half-dozen or so he interviews. He's young and skinny, sad-eyed and incapable of hiding his emotions; when the starlets strip and plop down next to him on a lime-green couch, he shrinks defensively. And the woman he chooses is the most likable of the porn stars who audition. She's 40 (he fantasizes about older women) and both aggressively cheerful and a little bit brittle, and she coos over him in a way that is obviously for show but not obviously fake.

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Clark's camera catches all of this—the setup, the interviews, and the sex that follows—with a combination of fearlessness and forgiveness. Every flicker of bravado, desire, and discomfort registers, every averted eye, every passing grimace and every small smile. The rhythm of the editing is swift and loose, but Clark leaves nothing out: I have burned in my memory a fleeting shot of the woman kneeling down with a paper towel to help clean up after they're done, as matter-of-factly as she might wipe spilled Coke from a kitchen table.

With Impaled, Clark does to pornography what Cervantes did to tales of chivalry, and Flaubert did to romance-fiction: He knocks the edifice down and then rebuilds it into a more profound version, with a relentlessness that's almost horrifying and an attention to detail that keeps the whole thing human. "I didn't realize it would be like that," the kid says after he's enacted his fantasy, but he sounds more puzzled than rueful. And by the time the film was done, I had to agree with him. I didn't know it would be like that, either.

Jim Lewis is the author of three novels, most recently, The King Is Dead.

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