Three films that normalise unhealthy relationships

Some of your favourites might be on this list, sadly.

Three films that normalise unhealthy relationships

When we think of unhealthy relationships, we often fail to realise that they don’t just exist behind closed doors. 

Domestic violence and coercive control are often such taboo subjects that we sometimes don’t realise when examples of such behaviour and crimes are staring us in the face. Here are three films that you’ve probably come across that definitely need to be reconsidered in the light of the relationships they portray. 

365 Days

This Netflix smash-hit from 2020 is full to the brim with unacceptable behaviour. 

It tells the story of Laura, a Polish woman who is kidnapped by Sicilian Mafia boss Massimo while on holiday. Massimo then tells her that he plans to keep her prisoner for 365 days and hopes that she will have fallen in love with him by that time. It seems that Massimo has had a previous interaction with Laura which caused him to become obsessed with her, and so on seeing her once more he decides to capitalise on the chance to possess her. Creepy, right? In my short summary paragraph, I have described several unacceptable behaviours:

  • stalking
  • kidnap
  • false imprisonment

In addition to this, the film features some really questionable sex scenes, some odd instances where Massimo gives Laura his credit card and tells her to go shopping, and a lot of Mafia fighting (over Laura it seems). 

The two leads are unquestionably photogenic, and this film definitely glamourises the unhealthy relationship they have. Laura is simply an object to Massimo, who holds her prisoner because he wants to. Depicting Laura as seduced by this behaviour is so problematic, as it makes all these unacceptable actions suddenly attractive. 

Unfortunately, this film spent a lot of time trending on Netflix over the summer of 2020. 

Many dismissed concerns over 365 Days, and said that it was simply escapist viewing, but can it be any good to escape to a world where women are simply the possessions of men and where violent behaviour is confused with seduction?

365 days stalking, kidnap and false imprisonment
Love Actually

This classic Christmas film actually depicts several questionable relationships as part of its multi-narrative structure. 

In particular, there is one relationship that plays out between Keira Knightley’s character, Juliet, and her new husband’s best friend Mark, played by Andrew Lincoln. 

Mark has clearly developed an infatuation bordering on obsession with Juliet and when filming Juliet’s wedding video, he ‘accidentally’ fails to film anyone else but her. When Juliet insists on seeing the wedding film, she’s shocked to see tons of close-ups of her face only, and expresses surprise because she feels that she and Mark have never had a proper conversation.

Yet despite this, she doesn’t do any shrinking away from Mark, and appears to be endeared to his stalker-like behaviour. It’s all very cute and Christmassy, but if you realised some weirdo you’d never spoken to couldn’t stop ogling you, would you be quite so happy?

And then there is the relationship between the newly elected prime minister (Hugh Grant’s character) and Natalie (played by Martine McCutcheon), a junior member of the household staff at 10 Downing Street. The power imbalance between the pair consistently makes their relationship development uncomfortable, and while the PM supposedly ‘saves’ Natalie from a very leery US president, he still has her moved to another role just because he feels she is distracting him.

The issue here is that a relationship where a man controls every aspect of a woman’s life is placed on a pedestal – he gets to decide when to protect her, but also when to speak to her and when to send her away. Where is her agency in all of this?

I’ve only really scratched the surface with Love, Actually here…safe to say its depictions of ‘romance’ badly need to be challenged. 

Beauty and the Beast 2017
Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Yet another weird imprisonment film that has been romanticised here. Okay, so the heroine Belle voluntarily chooses to be imprisoned in place of her father, but that’s not really much of a choice is it?

The Beast actually scares Belle quite a lot, but that’s okay, the film tells us, as he rescues her from some wolves. Just because a man ‘protects’ a woman from some things, it shouldn’t mean that he then gets free rein to behave in an odious fashion towards her. 

In fact, it’s not just the Beast’s relationship with Belle that is problematic. Prior to being imprisoned, Belle had to spend a considerable amount of time fending off the advances of Gaston, an arrogant former soldier from her town. When he learns of Belle’s imprisonment, he decides that rescuing her will be a great way to pressure her into marriage. Now the film is quite dismissive of Gaston and presents him as unpleasant, but it undeniably depicts women as objects over which men fight – and also constantly implies that the ‘rescuing’ of a woman ought to lead to her feeling somehow indebted. 

Gaston is ever the antagonist throughout the film, acting out and committing Belle to an asylum after he realises she has fallen for the Beast. He also attacks the Beast because of the relationship the he has formed with Belle, and this is yet another problematic depiction, which renders women the cause and source of strife between men. (Disclaimer: we’re not)

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