The 20 Best Movies about Repressed Sexuality

7. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975, Dir. Peter Weir)

Picnic At Hanging Rock

Set in 1900, the young female students of Appleyard College depart for a Valentine’s Day picnic at Hanging Rock. Picnic at Hanging Rock opens with a feeling of expectation – the students are seen as intimate with each other, watching each other in their rooms, tying each-others corsets in a chain. The young girls act ritualistically towards Valentine’s Day – we see them raise a statue of St Valentine and drive a large knife into a novelty cake.

The build up to the main event is full of implication. Four of the girls stray from the site of the picnic and become overwhelmed by a dream like state, removing their stockings, lying on the hot stone ground simultaneously. The girls seem all knowing. The soundtrack develops into an oppressive rumble during these initial scenes, implying something otherworldly.

Picnic at Hanging rock is not so much about Victorian ideals of sexual repression, but more about the intrusive, voyeuristic gaze of the viewer of the film, of the men who spy on the girls at Hanging Rock, of the teachers who appreciate the young students’ beauty and knowingness. Hanging Rock unleashes the girls from their societal restraints of concealing their bodies or retaining composure – and appears to swallow them up.


8. Carrie (1976, Dir. Brian De Palma)

Carrie 1976

Carrie is an all American depiction of high school bullying and abusive mother-daughter relationships. Carrie (Sissy Spacek) is outcast at school that discovers she has supernatural abilities, which eventually erupt with horrific violence and revenge during her prom, after she is doused in pig’s blood by a gang driven to humiliate her.

Margaret White (Piper Laurie), Carrie’s mother, is a repulsive representation of religious fundamentalism. Deeply repressed and manipulative, Margaret treats Carrie as a product of sin. Margaret is deeply guilty and horrified at having produced Carrie, and does not treat her daughter as an equal human being. She constantly punishes Carrie for her existence, as she reminds Margaret having succumbed to desire and her sexuality.

Margaret reveals to Carrie late in the film that she originally abstained from sex with Carrie’s father until he raped her while drunk – which she took pleasure in. She describes Carrie’s menstrual period as a ‘curse of blood’ – which in itself shows denial of the reproductive system and natural course of a woman’s body. Margaret talks as if preaching a sermon to Carrie rather than conversing with her, as if she has been entirely brainwashed into being a vehicle for repression.


9. Taxi Driver (1976, Dir. Martin Scorsese)

Taxi Driver

Travis Bickle’s (Robert De Niro) sexual repression in Taxi Driver becomes the springboard for the character’s lust for violence and heroic recognition. Suffering from loneliness and an honorable discharge from the Marines, Travis drives his taxi through the grimmest streets of New York City. He becomes progressively spiteful and disgusted with the city and its inhabitants. His need to be a knight in shining armor sees him obsessing over the child prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) and lusting after the political volunteer Betsy (Cybill Shepherd).

Travis is frustrated by his rejection by both these females. In one particular scene, which gives insight into Travis’s sexual frustration, is when he gives a ride to an aggressive, racist man (played by director Martin Scorsese). The man is like a concentrated version of Travis – raging about his wife who’s cheating on him, telling Travis what his .44 Magnum could do to her ‘pussy.’ The obvious connotation between guns, masculinity, and sexuality is rapidly present. The gun is a symbol of masculinity and power to Travis.

He is sexually contradictive; he takes Betsy to see a pornographic film at the cinema, but thinks he is above sex with a prostitute, whom he sees as a damsel-in-distress. Travis represses his desire because he does not know how to go through with it. The only release Travis receives is in his obsession with guns and in what he could do to the ‘scum’ of the city with his weaponry.


10. That Obscure Object of Desire (1977, Dir. Luis Bunuel)


In That Obscure Object of Desire, a frustrated, wealthy man named Mathieu (Fernando Rey) pursues the sexually masochistic Conchita (played by both Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina to represent the seductive side verses the frigid). Conchita teases Mathieu but never permits him his own satisfaction.

One particular scene shows Conchita wearing tightly laced corset underwear, which he cannot undo. Conchita enjoys the violent abuse to which Mathieu eventually subjects her after she appears to cheat on him. The lead characters revel in their frustration with each other, playing games, being sexually manipulative, switching between being together and separate.


11. A Short Film about Love (1988, Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski)

A Short Film About Love

Socially and sexually repressed nineteen-year-old Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) works as a postal clerk by day and observes the older, promiscuous artist, Magda (Grazyna Szapoloska) each evening through his telescope. Tomek craves interaction with her but prefers to be hidden, and to some extent, in control of her without her knowledge. He reports a fake gas leak to stop her having sex with a man in her apartment and places fake postal notices in her mailbox. He calls her, but does not speak.

Although obviously attracted to her, he diverts the telescope from her sexual antics and appears to be more intrigued by her reactions and routines. When Tomek reveals to Magda that he has been spying on her, she is initially repulsed, then intrigued. Magda uses her knowledge of sexuality to turn the tables on Tomek – who is mislead with ideas of romance and love rather than raw sexuality.


12. Malena (2000, Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore)


Malena is another film revolving around a young man’s voyeuristic tendencies towards an unknowing woman. Set in Sicily amidst World War II, twelve-year-old Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro) becomes obsessed with Malena (Monica Bellucci), a married woman whose beauty captures the lust of men and the spite of women. Renato’s elaborate teenage fantasies establish themselves in cinematic objectification; Renato sees himself on screen in the cinema, as the hero, cowboy, or gladiator, while Malena is the partially undressed, always beautiful – but often silent – object of lust for him to experience.

The camera glides across her body – in one particular shot capturing the texture of her stockings underneath her dress – implying her body underneath. Renato steals her underwear and masturbates to the idea of her, sometimes so violently that he has to oil his bedsprings, as his parents curse him from the room beneath. His family become involved but cannot stop his obsession. Renato’s sexual frustration lies in his feeling of inadequacy – his father and friend’s jokes about his height, genital size and general masculinity.

Renato’s obsession with wearing trousers – instead of a boy’s shorts – is one example of his desire to be taken seriously as an adult man. He involves himself in Malena’s life, as a voyeur, and writes her letters he’ll never send, but watches her through her windows as she is attacked and pursued by men. Renato is obsessed with the idea and physicality of Malena, but does not actively try to assist her or let her know of his existence. We watch Malena’s tragic downfall in the town through Renato’s young, lustful eyes – which makes her eventual persecution and public humiliation unbearable.


13. In the Mood for Love (2000, Dir. Wong Kar-wai)

In The Mood For Love

Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) and Chow Mo-wan (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) live next door to each other, sharing chance encounters until they discover that their partners have cheated on them, with each other.

Instead of conducting revenge, they establish a consensual role-play – acting as each other’s wife or husband, to make an understanding of the cheating and deceit. Their relationship develops in their partner’s absences, and although it is chaste, their fellow neighbors notice and begin to suspect. Although they are friends, society suspects otherwise. Eventually, they begin to feel desire for each other, and suppress their emotions for the judgment of society.

The suppressed sexuality and desire for connection between the leads is depicted in subtle movements, such as trying to touch each others hands, eating together in confined apartments, the silences between them. The reason for their abstinence for each other boils down to the need to stay true, not to stoop to the level their partners did.

The visual design of the film is particularly key to the repressed sexuality of the lead characters – there is such a rich variety of color and texture in the wallpaper and lighting, but such absence of wild behavior in the leads. The soundtrack speaks for the characters where they cannot, yearn while the characters stay silent. In The Mood For Love overall depicts the nostalgia of love affairs, how the ones that disturb us the most are sometimes the ones we never ‘had’. The final scene where Chow Mo-wan whispers into a secret hole in a Cambodian ruin is particularly bitter sweet – as Su Li-zhen will never hear him.