by Rich Moreland, August, 2013
This is the final installment of my review of The Submission of Emma Marx. The film is wrapped in many layers, among them an overwhelming feminist statement.
A Deliberate Process
“We’re not like normal people.”
Like women who long to start that conversation with lovers who seem distant, Emma Marx voices her doubts to the man who is refining her kinks.
Not that her BDSM education is for naught. Emma is learning the rules and William is a patient instructor.
Emma’s intitiation into bondage is tastefully handled by directors Jacky St. James and Eddie Powell. BDSMers who prefer total nudity with their “training films” will be disappointed with this part of the movie because Emma is being “broken in” slowly and with care. It’s not about displaying her body; she has deeper issues with her psychological barriers.
One provocative image occurs at this juncture in the film. As part of her training, Emma, clothed in a red dress, is taught to kneel inside the front door of William’s house with hands behind her back. Later in the story’s most dramatic moment, this submissive shot is re-visited with new purpose.
William directs all aspects of her education and woven into the harsher scenes of flogging are shots of him massaging her (BDSMers call it “aftercare’) and a brief shower episode artistically framed at a distance through the glass enclosed stall. She is on her knees cleansing him.
Likewise, preparing her for anal is a deliberate, loving process. In feminist-oriented pornography, anal sex is generally avoided because most women don’t like it and don’t care to see it. Emma Marx has another message: anal is also a kink once considered an exclusive male fantasy. Over the last two decades, it’s become a standard in adult productions and has gained wider acceptance among female viewers.
Like the protagonist in The Story of O, Emma Marx is moved gradually into anal. With William’s help, she applies the butt plugs she received as a gift to increase her physical capacity to accommodate him. When the anal scene arrives, it is without foreplay. No oral, just insertion and rhythm with lots of tenderness.
The directors’ approach abandons formulaic gonzo porn’s oft used ATM (ass-to-mouth), a questionable sexual behavior for health reasons. Mixing oral and anal randomly and without care sends the wrong message. Sex should be fun, not risky.
By the way, the scene is pure Penny Pax. Though as Emma she must come across as reluctant to experiment with anal, Penny is no stranger to it. For female viewers, St. James and Powell communicate that with preparation, anal is enjoyable. As for Penny, her passion and ecstasy is hinted in her voice and her face, but the flushing around her shoulders and chest reveal her authentic arousal.
Lying Awake at Night
In the office scene that accelerates the movie’s pace, Emma voices her fears that their relationship is not normal. William’s frustration reaches the breaking point. Knowing she is resistant to her true feelings and cannot act on her own to leave him, he unties her, gets her to her feet, and forces her down the stairs.
The action tumbles down the steps and speaks for Emma’s world as it is crumbling. She is driven by her attraction to William and not the BDSM, denying what she feels inside. Dominated by her need for society’s approval, Emma struggles with the word “normal,” not yet understanding what he already knows. Normal has various meanings and is not always a reflection of what everyone tacitly agrees it should be.
William knows he has failed and slashes back at her doubts, telling Emma that continuing together is no good. He’s seen this show before. “You’ll lie awake at night, wondering if something is wrong with us because we’re different,” he shouts.
Emma Marx explores the dilemma many BDSMers face. What is the true passion, the person or the kink? In fact, kinksters sometimes will drop vanilla lovers because the fetish is a part of who they are and cannot be abandoned. This is Emma’s conflict. Is it William she wants and is she just playing along, like Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, to keep her lover, try to understand him, and remove her own kinks from the equation? Or, is the BDSM beginning to take hold inside her like O in The Story of O who can change lovers but keeps her whippings? And if it becomes strong enough, will Emma someday replace William with a tougher dominant, an act of independence?
Emma is astonished and fearful. At the foot of the stairs she asks William to punish her for her doubts. She removes his belt and hands it to him. It’s a desperate act of bravado to forestall rejection. He complies, expressing his anger. But it’s brutality, not pleasure, and she quickly safewords with “red.” Their relationship is over. He can’t go on with her; she doesn’t get it.
In this scene, like the paddle in her office disciple earlier, the belt is not shown striking Emma because meaning is not tied up in the physicality of the punishment. It’s about bridging a mental abyss; the camera lets her facial expressions and the sounds of the instrument carry the action. Once again, Penny Pax is superlative as Emma. She is a treasure in adult film.
* * * * *
Emma resigns her position with William Frederick’s company and in a well-conceived overhead shot they pass on the stairs: she descending; he ascending. He is going to the privacy of his mountain top; she’s headed out to find another job.
Time is laboring on, the days pass. Working to pull off a successful wedding for Nadia, Emma is haunted by her thoughts of William.
Images of her efforts to forget float across the screen. In one, she sits on her bed, holding a butt plug as her mind drifts.
“Will happiness always elude me?” she says in a voice over.
On her big day, Nadia talks happiness and suggests that it lies within, confirming the inescapable Emma cannot shake. She has only one choice.
Penance and Purification
Emma must yield to her desires and return to the safety of William Frederick’s house, his galaxy of BDSM delights circling the Sun of acceptance.
Emma clarifies for herself what she has always known: she is not comfortable in her sister’s vanilla world. She now accepts that finding someone who shares her perversions “for a different kind of normal” defines happiness for what it is: universally sought and individually discovered.
But purification must come first and the final scene in its entirety does exactly that with an initial self-imposed ritual of penance. Emma returns to William, enters his front door and submissively falls to her knees with hands behind her as she was previously taught. She will wait an eternity if need be. Beside the door on the right is the sanctuary’s sentinel, the mirror and the plants repositioned now so that the stalks are leaning in unison, one above the other, toward Emma.
William sees her from the top of the stairs where he had previously bound and flogged her, but does not come to her. Not yet.
Hours later he descends, scoops up a sleeping Emma and carries her to the mountain top.
The music is spiritual and Handelesque.
Binding her spread-eagled to the bed, William welcomes her home in a sex scene that is focused entirely on her. He blindfolds her, gives her earplugs with music, and covers her body with sensation: hot wax, ice, and lots of oral.
Emma’s feet clench forcefully, she curls her toes and grasps the bed covers with her hands as if trying to rip an unseen life force from the fabric and absorb it into herself. Her cries and moans punctuate the energy of a sex scene that is a visual experience.
Emma becomes worthy in her own eyes and a disciple-like vision for William.
Though BDSMers might challenge the use of perversions to describe their kink, they surely will agree with the film’s belief that normality is in the eye of the beholder. However, Emma Marx delivers another message of what it means to be normal, the emerging power of the independent woman—a seeming contradiction to the BDSM submissive.
As the film closes on a sunny day, Emma receives a message from William to come to his house for another round of bondage play. Smiling, she is delighted and secure that she is now in a different normal. The moment is significant for what it does not tell the viewer. Emma Marx is not married and is not living with William. At this point, at least, she is unwilling to embrace her sister’s interpretation of normal. She remains her whole self, an undeniable feminist statement.
* * * * *
No adult film is perfect because sex, and in this case an accompanying fetish, has no standard definition of how it should be presented. But The Submission of Emma Marx is pretty darn close. I could go over a short list of things I would have liked to have seen: at least one internal pop shot because most women viewers don’t care for facials (Emma gets a partial one at the end) and some more time devoted to BDSM training with total nudity to please the bondage and discipline crowd. But this is just quibbling.
Most important, I urge New Sensations to consider an Emma Marx series, though corralling Penny Pax and Richie Calhoun for another film is probably easier suggested than done.
Emma Marx is about the liberation of a woman and her soul accomplished through the seeming contradiction of consensual BDSM. As I pointed out previously, its intensity, drama, and pure emotion coupled with discipline and punishment makes this film a leader in the submission porn genre. It has a strong cast and one of porn’s best players, Penny Pax, a BDSM veteran who can act and be carried away with authentic orgasms. She communicates directly with the audience, persuading the viewer to step into the scene and sweep her up. I found myself concentrating on her every nuance, especially her eyes that seem to speak directly the viewer. That’s something rarely found in the commercialism of the porn industry that insists producers quickly get on with the next project.
The Submission of Emma Marx is art and sex combined into a narrative that moves the viewer. But what is the film really saying? Early in the story Emma tells William with a touch of haughtiness, “I may look submissive, but I can assure you I’m not.” Perhaps Emma Marx, who later admits that “deep down” in her “demented mind” she actually likes her punishments, lets us know that love is many layered with confounding emotions darting among our fantasies.