In Kimberly Peirce’s 1999 film, “Boys Don’t Cry,” there is a 30 second close-up of a young woman’s face. Her eyes are closed, and her lips tremble. Slowly, a smile creeps across her face and she lets out a small laugh. The smile fades as her mouth opens wide. Finally, her eyes roll back in her head before the scene cuts to a shot of city lights. Yes, the young woman had an orgasm.
Last Wednesday, Peirce screened this clip during a public discussion at the University of Chicago with the UofC English professor Lauren Berlant. Though the film went on to win an Academy Award, it was initially given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, which would have banned the movie from playing in most theaters. It was this scene, showing the female protagonist in the throes of an orgasm, which caused most of the hullabaloo. However, after an appeal by Peirce, the rating was eventually lowered to R. Peirce, a UofC alumna, has gone on to direct two more major films. In her talk, Peirce poked fun at the prudishness of the Motion Picture Association of America, asking the audience, “When has anyone ever been hurt by an orgasm that lasted too long?”
Peirce went on to discuss a clip from her 2008 film, “Stop-Loss.” The movie, inspired by her brother’s experience in the Iraq War, portrays the emotional devastation of GIs. The three-minute clip she showed depicted an urban firefight in which American soldiers were simultaneously victims and villains shooting into civilian homes where attackers sought refuge. The film explores what happens after such a morally ambiguous encounter, and, according to Peirce, proves that “a story can have a tragic ending and still move forward.”
But this event’s ending was a happy one–for some, the climax of the night was the reception, bringing to students and guests an opportunity for hors d’oeuvres and more intimate conversation with Peirce.