In the opening scene of The Little Death, after a round of sex, Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) tells her about-to-fall-asleep boyfriend, Paul (director Josh Lawson) “I want you to rape me.” He responds by telling her she’s a 5-star woman in his book, a 10 out of 10, and then rolls over to fall asleep, satisfied that he made her happy. Maeve corrects him, “No, I want you to rape me. Not rate. Rape.” This launches a debate of the logistics of her rape fantasy, and how she wants him to actually manufacture this, while ignoring that Paul isn’t fully comfortable with the fantasy.
With this opening scene, Lawson sets up all of his themes in miniature. A happy couple is having trouble in their relationship, sexually and otherwise. Instead of communicating their problems, they focus on the problems they’re having in the bedroom. Ultimately, they find satisfaction in the bedroom through non-vanilla sex, but they’re still not openly communicating about their relationship and the whole situation starts to crumble.
This pattern is repeated through four couples, each with different kinks: Maeve and Paul, Evie (Kate Mulvaney) and Dan (Damon Harriman) who discover they enjoy sex when they’re not being their real selves, Rowena (Kate Box) who discovers she’s turned on when her husband Richard (Patrick Brammell) cries, and Phil (Alan Dukes) who discovers he likes it when his emotionally abusive wife Maureen (Lisa McCune) is sleeping.
There’s a fifth couple who is a tonic to all this sour grapes: Monica (Erin James) and Sam (T.J. Power). Monica is a sign-to-voice translator for deaf people who receives a late night request for translating a phone sex session to Sam. Through their translation and communication, they discover they find each other cute and kind and fall in love.
Running through all this is Steve (Kim Gyngell), a convicted sex predator who has to announce his presence to all the people in his neighborhood. To introduce himself, he brings everybody homemade Golliwogs, cookies in the shape of a racist black caricature. Everybody is so enthralled by the nostalgia for the racist cookies, they practically miss the sexual predator announcement.
Through the four main couples and Steve, Lawson sets up a hilariously black comedy about the dangers of replacing communication with transgressive pleasure that ultimately goes for broke. In Lawson’s world, kinky sex, phone sex, and racist cookies are all forms of transgressive pleasurable behavior that hinder any real attempts at communication between adults in a relationship. Not that he condemns the search for pleasure, or even hedonism, but, he condemns them for possibly being a placebo of an emotional band-aid over a potentially gaping wound.
One of the pleasures of The Little Death is finding the various ways that each story is connected, thematically, structurally, and personally. Little ironies are played against larger ironies, and situations branch off with repercussions unexpected. Connection, sex, pleasure and communication are all key to relationships, but Lawson’s conservative edge worries that we’ve swung too far in replacing transgressive hedonism in lieu of good old fashioned talking. Maybe he’s right.