There’s something devious lurking behind the curtains at your local movie theater.
And it’s not some knife-wielding sociopath.
It’s romanticized incestuous relationships.
Incest used to be a social norm across every continent, especially in royal families. But now it is one of the most widespread social taboos and is forbidden in most modern cultures.
While many filmmakers choose to frame consensual incest as a serious plot device, some directors choose not to explain its presence.
This is especially common in filmic adaptations of classic literature. Many choose to make creative changes to original material, but in a number of literary adaptations, directors consciously include the details of romantic incestuous relationships.
That’s downright weird.
Unlike “Game of Thrones,” where the plot addressed the negative connotations of incest, many films still try to covertly include the topic without consequences, and many of these films have grossed millions of dollars.
There is an extremely significant difference in tone between the plot-twist ending of 2015’s “Crimson Peak,” where the entire motive for murder is revealed to be an incestuous relationship, and the budding romance in 1980’s “Blue Lagoon.”
While “Blue Lagoon” might have been critically panned, it was never because of the blatantly incestuous, sexual relationship. Roger Ebert called it, “the dumbest movie of the year,” yet it made almost $60 million during its theatrical release.
The film is based on Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s 1908 novel of the same name and follows first cousins Emmeline and Richard after they are stranded on a tropical island as children. The movie quickly becomes sexual and leads to pregnancy.
Despite the plot, the film isn’t a drama or tragedy.
It’s a romance.
Their relationship is never questioned, and their child is completely healthy, despite statistics that show inbred children are roughly 50% more likely to have extreme birth defects, early death or mental deficiencies.
Their familial relationship is established through one line of dialogue during the opening scene and both are fully aware of it as they play together on the ship as children.
This scene also establishes that Emmeline’s parents are dead, which means the two may have been raised as siblings under the care of Richard’s father.
Removing one line would make the relationship acceptable.
Yet, the director kept it in.
And many of these instances have existed under the radar in recent pop culture.
You can’t open a Buzzfeed quiz without seeing a reference from “Clueless,” but as much as I love Paul Rudd, he was still raised as Cher’s brother.
“Clueless” is considered a ‘90s classic and has shaped the coming-of-age genre since its theatrical release in 1995, grossing $56 million in theaters.
And yes, I know that Cher and Josh are not blood relatives. But that doesn’t matter.
It’s established early in the film that Cher’s father considers Josh his son and Cher’s brother. He goes as far as to say, “You divorce wives, not children.” It’s implied that the two spent a period of their adolescence playing the role of siblings, regardless of how long their parents’ marriage lasted. Josh even calls Mr. Horowitz “dad” throughout the film.
Imagine when he found out his children were dating.
Do you expect me to believe the look Josh and Mr. Horowitz share before Josh follows Cher to a party is a nod of approval, and not an appreciation for Josh’s protective older brother mode? Absolutely not.
There’s a reason the film doesn’t end with a reference to their comfortable family transition, because it wouldn’t make sense.
The screenwriter and director, Amy Heckerling, claims the idea for the film was loosely based on 1815 novel “Emma.”
What’s strange about Heckerling’s remake is that the relationship in the novel does not cross the line into incest: Emma and Mr. Knightley did not grow up together, he is her brother-in-law. Heckerling consciously decided to make her characters cross the line into an inappropriate relationship.
Maybe her choice had something to do with Paul Rudd’s parents being second cousins.
Did you know that? Did that ruin your day?
Regardless, it would have been so unbelievably easy to make them family friends by excluding a handful of lines.
The choice to include incestuous relationships didn’t stop in the ‘90s either. It has returned in recent media produced in the last two decades. And in films like “Flowers in the Attic” and “Cruel Intentions,” these relationships don’t even add any profound substance to the plot.
As both a film and English major, I’m invested in preserving both mediums.
But directors need to understand that it’s okay to deviate from source material that is no longer culturally relevant. This goes for social topics like race, gender and sexual orientation.
But it especially goes for incest.
Opinion desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Samantha Vargas is the senior features editor, an English/film studies double major with a minor in media study. She spends her free time finding shows around Buffalo and hanging out with her cat.