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Coercion, kidnap, violence and sex: 365 Days is a grim portrayal of desire

The hit Netflix film romanticises sexual violence, but Irish viewers can’t get enough of it. Now there are growing concerns about the message it is sending young viewers

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Leads: Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone star in the film

Leads: Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone star in the film

Leads: Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone star in the film

How are you managing your lust in lockdown? For many, it seems, Netflix has provided an aid of sorts with its acquisition of Polish film 365 Days, which shot to the top of Ireland’s most-watched charts on release and has spent the past month in the Top 10.

Based on a book by Blanka Lipińska, 365 Days is ostensibly a romance, in which Sicilian mafia boss Massimo becomes fixated with Laura, a hotel sales director from Warsaw, after glimpsing her on a beach moments before his father is murdered. Five years later, he abducts Laura from a holiday resort and grants her a year to fall in love with him. Her initial reluctance is overcome with a series of shopping trips, lavish meals and protracted sex scenes, and the pair are tidily engaged and expecting a child within two months, complete with a cliffhanger ending to ensure a sequel.

It’s shocking, and shockingly popular — in spite of minimal publicity, 365 Days has captured the collective imagination. But at a time when there is growing concern around sexual violence and the issue of consent, is it sending a toxic message to viewers?

Clinical sexologist Emily Power Smith likens the sex scenes to anything you might find in free online porn. “It’s all about what he does to her: him putting her in position, him giving her his penis and holding her head — in real life, it’s one of the most distressing things that can be done to a woman. That’s very much a value from porn, that women get their pleasure from being ‘done to’ and seeing the pleasure they’re providing to the man, and that’s very much the value in this film,” she explains.

While we can marvel at the scenery and cackle at the dialogue (in one ‘feisty’ moment, Laura cries, “I’m not a bag of potatoes that you can transfer without my permission!”), 365 Days is shameless in its romanticisation of kidnapping and sexual violence. The first instance of assault takes place 10 minutes in, when Massimo forces a flight attendant to perform oral sex on him. Afterwards, we see her smiling to herself.

Podcast host, academic and sex columnist Roe McDermott says this scene “perpetuates the idea that consent can be achieved retroactively, and that women do really enjoy being violently raped, they just have to say no first, you have to just do it and then they’ll like it. It’s deeply damaging.”

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Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone star in the film

Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone star in the film

Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone star in the film

On kidnapping Laura, Massimo tells her, “I won’t do anything without your permission”, a promise flatly contradicted by the fact he has his hand on her breast as he says it. Thereafter, he grabs her by the throat, gropes her breasts and shoves his hand in her underwear. The threat of violence is persistent, as he repeatedly warns, “Don’t provoke me.”

Later, when he rescues Laura from drowning — moments after accusing her of dressing “like a whore” in clothes he selected — they have sex on his yacht, in an eye-popping sequence that lasts four minutes. Clíona Saidlear, director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, explains that the kidnapping setup negates any consent.

“The premise of it is unapologetic about coercion, kidnap and violence,” she says. “What you choose to do consensually in the bedroom is none of our business, but kidnap cannot be conceived in any way, shape or form as consensual.

“Fantasies can be healthy and in BDSM, in theory at least, the power dynamics and consent are worked out very carefully. That’s not what’s being depicted here.

“We have increasingly packaged the harm, humiliation and degradation of women as something that is sexy. That in itself is deeply worrying. Why do we find that entertaining?”

The novel was written by a woman, and the film is co-directed by a woman, yet its toxic masculinity and misogynistic violence go unchecked, and are even presented as desirable.

“I think women are getting educated from porn,” says Power Smith. “Without reasonable, non-judgemental sex education that actually discusses female pleasure, we have nothing to go on but porn and romcoms, and in those you’re going to find disempowered women who are submissive to men. That’s the model.

“I hear more and more that women are expecting to receive porn experiences from their men and men are expecting to provide those experiences, and you’ll see the language I’m using there: men want to give, women want to receive — that’s the porn value.”

The film has a huge teenage fanbase, and on TikTok, videos tagged #365Days have garnered more than 1bn views, often reacting to Massimo’s chokeholds and the infamous yacht scene.

Anna Keogh, a youth worker and sexual health educator, notes that while many are just poking fun, it’s important to acknowledge the fantasy element.

“When we do lessons around pornography or media literacy, what we really focus on is the idea of reality versus fantasy. We want them to be able to recognise when things are highly unrealistic compared to what they might encounter in real life,” she says.

“[Massimo] is the bad boy and knight in shining armour combined, those typical teenage fantasies, so I can definitely see how people would be worried and not want their child to see him as their fantasy. You wouldn’t want to actually be in a relationship with that man, he’d be awful.”

Roe McDermott is concerned that younger viewers may be absorbing 365 Days’s messages about sex and violent behaviours.

“The problem comes when teenage boys see these teenage girls going, ‘Oh my god, this is so sexy’, and they try to reenact it and they’re not getting messages of how else they could enjoy sex with women,” she says. “We need to be doing the work to educate teenagers to make sure that they know this is not something to try out.”

Netflix themselves refused to comment for this piece. But, as McDermott points out, it would be a mistake to single out 365 Days as “the problem”. Instead, it should be viewed as the product of a society that enables violence against women. “Ultimately it is not to blame for sexism,” she argues, describing 365 Days as both contributing to and resulting from a culture of sexism. “By continuing to blame one film and not our own failures to educate children about consent, to tackle toxic masculinity, to take violence against women seriously, and to dismantle the outdated systems that protect abusers, we are choosing to abdicate our responsibility to do the work. Instead of just saying, ‘This film shouldn’t be watched and our problem will be solved’, we need to do the work.”

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Irish Independent