In ‘Pleasure,’ a Young Woman Navigates the Dark Side of Porn

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The porn industry sells sex, but more than that, it sells the illusion that its male and female performers are deriving great personal and carnal satisfaction from their work. There’s thus plenty of loaded meaning to the title of Pleasure, director Ninja Thyberg’s drama about a young Swedish woman who arrives in Los Angeles determined to be the next adult film superstar, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and lands in U.S. theaters on May 13 in an explicit, unrated cut. Portraying what it’s like to navigate the business from a first-person insider perspective (replete with a cast of real-life X-rated vets), the film may not have something altogether revelatory to say about its subject, but it nonetheless incisively and authentically contends that in this rugged world, a good deal of the women aren’t actually enjoying themselves.

Upon touching down in LA, Linnéa (Sofia Kappel) assumes the stage moniker Bella Cherry and moves into a “model house” that she shares with other aspiring starlets and is owned and run by Mike (Jason Toler), her agent and de facto pimp. Before even providing such details, however, Pleasure opens with 19-year-old Bella at her maiden porn shoot, which is prefaced by a ritual that involves signing a consent form, OK-ing her $900 fee, guaranteeing that she’s not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, agreeing to provide a medical test that confirms she has no sexually transmitted diseases, and showing her ID and a newspaper to an iPhone camera to verify her age. The last of those makes the entire affair feel like a quasi-hostage situation, and that impression continues once she does her raunchy thing for a collection of guys whose chuckling and bluntly dirty talk is as unsettling as their faux-soothing suggestions—once she has second thoughts—to “overcome it and push past it, but no pressure!”

That scenario will play out again in Pleasure, and in increasingly harrowing forms, as Bella endeavors to overcome her qualms and transform herself into a smut queen. At that initial shoot, she’s told by Bear (Chris Cock) to watch her back at her new residence because her housemates are liable to steal from her and backstab her for gigs. This causes her to cast an immediately wary eye at them all, including Joy (Revika Anne Reustle), a brash newcomer from Florida who, during an ensuing round of interviews with producers, announces her willingness to do everything and anything under the sun. Joy’s references to creampies, gangbangs, blowbangs, anal and more indicate not only her lack of inhibition but also her hands-on knowledge about the field, and while it doesn’t necessarily translate into success for her, it educates the more naïve Bella about the anything-goes lengths required to make it big.

Read more at The Daily Beast.