Netflix's latest addition 365 Days has been a big hitter for the streaming service this summer, despite being deeply problematic. We’re all in desperate need of escapism, and the luxurious settings of the Polish "erotic thriller" – swanky parties, private swimming pools and car drives around the Sicilian coast – are theoretically a great distraction from mid-pandemic drizzly evenings. So far, so healthy. What’s disappointing is the premise of the film, which not only normalises, but glamorises the idea of kidnap, coercion and sexual violence.
The plot, based on a book by Blanka Lipinska, centres around a rich Italian gangster, Massimo, who becomes obsessed with a beautiful Polish stranger, Laura. While Laura is on holiday with her unpleasant boyfriend and a friend, Massimo’s staff snatch her off the street, and she wakes up in a strange bed at his mansion. Massimo tells her he’s used to getting what he wants, and that she’s essentially his prisoner for the next 365 days. If, within that time, she doesn’t fall in love with him, she’s free to go. Naturally, it plays out that, despite her initial anger, she quickly comes around to her handsome captor, and ends up head over heels for him.
I work with survivors of sexual violence, and the normalisation of the "she must have wanted it really" myth is part of the reason why survivors feel unable to come forward – and often one of the factors behind a lack of justice in court.
We have a long way to go in terms of stressing the need for consent, but in a post-#MeToo world, it’s depressing to still find myself having to explain why a storyline like this is so problematic. If, as a society, we were at a point where survivors were believed and felt safe to come forward; where juries and judges never fell into victim-blaming narratives, and the statistics of those being sexually abused were less bleak, then yes, maybe a film like this wouldn’t be such a problem. But you can’t tell me that it’s harmless fun and totally meaningless to see sexual violence used as glossy entertainment, while one in five women and one in 10 men over the age of 16 are still experiencing it.
Much of the defence for the film is the idea that we’re all entitled to our own fantasies. It goes without saying that, of course, sexual fantasies are absolutely fine in consenting adult relationships. If you love the idea of being kidnapped and find a partner who is happy to safely accommodate that in some way – go for it. This isn’t about being prudish or shutting down people’s kinks. It’s about removing the normalisation of the idea that women are "asking for it" without actually verbalising any level of consent, or that there’s a fine line between someone clearly communicating that they hate you, and them being turned on. This isn’t a niche film – it’s been a regular fixture in Netflix’s top 10, and seen by thousands of viewers already. Considering that many of them may be young, it feels a particularly dangerous message to share that consent is secretly implicit and that great sex is all about a man having complete power. If the film centred on Massimo and Laura agreeing that kidnapping was a sexy fantasy, then fair enough. But not being brutishly drugged and locked up, subjected to chokeholds and sexual assault, all without agreement.
Another "hot take" is that because Massimo looks like a model, it’s all actually quite sexy, which I can hardly be bothered to answer, but just for the record – good looking people can still be rapists. Something I should not have to be saying in 2020, especially when so many sportsmen and other celebrities are being found guilty of sexual violence (and many, many more being accused). Being rich and/or attractive is not a green light for treating people however you want – and it certainly shouldn’t be seen as aspirational.
365 Days tries to convince viewers that it’s a straightforward romance – two people who want different things (ie to rape someone, versus not wanting to be raped – hardly Romeo and Juliet) but are ultimately destined to be together. There are long (LONG) shopping montages, where Massimo gives Laura carte blanche to spend his money on designer clothes – which feels to me more like grooming that actual romance, but whatever floats your boat, I guess. But these warmer moments make scenes where she’s suddenly tied up to stop her escaping feel even more jarring – this is not a love story. It’s a story about power, dominance, violence and money. And the thing that bothers me most of all, is there’s no plot-driven reason for it. Laura and Massimo clearly have chemistry. There’s no point to the abduction and violence – it could have just been a story about romance, with as much consensual kink as they wanted.
If you have been affected by rape or sexual abuse, you can contact Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999 or visit rapecrisis.org.uk