by Rich Moreland, March 2016
This is the first installment of a three-part analysis of The Submission of Emma Marx: Exposed. With this film, writer/director Jacky St. James finishes the trilogy that follows a BDSM submissive through her rite of passage into womanhood.
My thanks to New Sensations/Digital Sin for providing the watermarked photos. All other photos are credited where possible.
* * *
Mythologists believe all stories contain archetypes, symbolic imagery that explains how we interpret the world around us. In other words, an archetype is something we inherently understand, the stuff of great literature, religious belief, and legend.
In the Emma Marx saga, storyteller and director Jacky St. James taps into a powerful archetype, the number three, the cornerstone of an age-old concept known as birth, death, and rebirth. The final chapter, Exposed, is about Emma’s renewal and the conflicting emotions that bear witness to it.
Even the structure of the Emma series, the trilogy, embraces the triad concept.
So what does this mean? Simply this. The myth and its power over the human psyche is why Emma Marx stands alone in adult film. Compliment the narrative with superb acting captured by a haunting, brooding cinematography and Emma’s story takes its place among adult entertainment’s hall of fame offerings.
Let’s be honest. Emma Marx is already porn’s best in the “art” cinema genre (Cinekink are you listening?). Mute the hardcore into a smidgen of nudity and indie film accolades are but a screening away.
The ancient Greeks honored the trilogy because it reinforced their idea of the hero who rises above the masses. Is Emma Marx a heroine? She is, but it is not of her own making, or so she believes. In the first two films, Mr. Frederick takes the formative clay that begins as a naïve girl, sees within it, and molds the Emma the viewer gets to know. He orchestrates the kinks that become her identity.
But she is not reprogrammed because BDSM is a product of her DNA. Frederick tells Emma, “This was in you before you met me. I could tell that the second I met you. It’ll still be a part of who you are forever.”
Early in Exposed, Emma reflects on Mr. Frederick’s tutelage that guides her enlightenment.
“I was fearless. In fact, putting limits on my experiences had become more terrifying than taking risks.”
However, her journey is tumultuous and laced with misery and despair. Faced with “a profound sense of unhappiness,” Emma eventually engages another conductor to play her symphony. Her fetishized self must be rediscovered and retooled under a new BDSM guru.
In the final episode, Emma suffers the pain of an emotional loss that inevitably precedes the mystical rebirth the ancients knew well. Mr. Frederick brought forth the original awakening that transformed a shy, introverted girl into an independent-minded adult. But a lingering childlike dependency remains, necessitating in a further renewal that will release Emma’s authentic, transcendental self.
The BDSM submissive tries to subdue, almost mute, her final reawakening, as the opening shots of the third film suggest with makeup brushes, heavy red lipstick, and an awful black wig. But the disguise is doomed to failure because Emma cannot be fully individuated (developed into a whole person, as psychologist Carl Jung puts it) while hiding behind a mask. The archetype of rebirth will not abide it.
Theme of Three
How does a director turn the transcendental elements of the human psyche into an adult film? Jacky St. James pulls it off with grace, power, and tough emotion. I might add that the cast is brilliant. Each performer is the embodiment of their character. The viewer is familiar with Nadia (Riley Reid), Ray (Van Wilde), William Frederick (Ritchie Calhoun), and, of course, Emma (Penny Pax).
Maturing into their roles, they grow together throughout the series. By the way, before you see the third episode, please watch the first two otherwise you’ll be walking in for the denouement of a well-crafted story you may not fully comprehend.
To complement the familiar faces, Exposed offers more characters to enrich the narrative. Ryan Diller who steps in as Michael Sullivan is a sensitive fit for the role. He shows up in the final hour of the film and becomes Emma’s guiding light, not an easy task for any performer because our heroine is drawn taut in her feelings. The reawakening that will push her forward must come from her own soul.
Even the sexual encounters carry the triad theme. Jacky St. James has grouped her characters accordingly. New to this version of Emma Marx are Samantha Hayes (Rebecca) and Aidra Fox (Joelle), two emerging industry stars. They are the additional play partners that entertain Mr. Frederick’s fantasies. His first romp with Rebecca is watched by his former submissive, Audrina (Sara Luvv). His final dip into carnality features a threesome with Emma and Joelle.
More on the literary implications of these episodes later.
As she has done throughout this adult classic, Jacky St. James has the opening sex scene feature Nadia and Ray to establish the story’s contrasting “normality.” But this time there is an unseen third person, their little one, Isabelle. Nadia is never totally comfortable with this fantasy set-up because she’s distracted by thoughts of the baby. It’s hard to let go sometimes, even for an hour of fun, when you are very suburban and middle-class.
Nadia and Emma remain a duality throughout the series; each is defined by the other. But does this duality include a mask for Nadia?
We discover early in the series that Emma’s sister is consumed by her conventionality and its play-by-the-numbers expectations. It certainly fits her shallow self-absorption. In fact, one gets the feeling that her baby is just the next event programmed into a well-scripted socially acceptable life Nadia never challenges. It is evident, however, that she has learned some lessons from Emma about sexual fantasy. Nadia does agree to fool around with Ray’s sexual imagination, though her commitment to these make-believe dalliances is debatable.
On the other hand, Emma, emerging from her cocoon in the first film, faces another transition in Exposed. Her mask, defined by the wig she wears in the opening shots of the third film, is ready to accompany her back into what she loves. But wigs and lipstick shout of denial and can never be satisfying. Just as she did when releasing her kinks in the first film, Emma now faces another hurdle in her growth, she must break through the pain that lies beneath the persona everyone sees.
Rebirth, in all its forms, is the story of the human condition because exposure is the final step to liberating the real self.
* * *
The next post will explore the imagery that sets The Submission of Emma Marx: Exposed apart from the run-of-the-mill porn fare.