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Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) were the hottest showbiz act of the 1950s, but were ruined when a young woman was found dead in their suite. Fifteen years later, journalist Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman) convinces her publisher to offer Vince a million dollars for the untold story of that fateful night. She accidentally meets Lanny soon after and spends the night with him, only to find herself caught in a game of cat-and-mouse between them both. Based on the acclaimed novel by Rupert Holmes. Written and directed by Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica).
 

 The Thrust of the Idea

When I promised my producer that I would deliver an R-rated version of my latest film, Where the Truth Lies, I signed the contract confident that this wouldn’t be much of a problem. Even though the script had several scenes that seemed sexually explicit, I also realized that careful framing and editing could solve any obstacles.

Or so I thought.

The big problem that I encountered was that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is very concerned about the depiction of thrusting. A few thrusts would be allowed, but anything more might land the picture in the dreaded NC-17 category. The challenge became how to choreograph extended scenes of sexual activity without seeing the prolonged thrusting associated with the act.

The obvious solution used by countless films is to frame the actors’ heads and shoulders as their lower bodies thrust. This efficient method effectively frames out the offending area, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the actors’ faces as they stare at each other blissfully thinking about the nice feelings their unseen groins are producing. Occasionally, the director will then cut to a wider shot, but this is never more than a few thrusts, and it usually finds the actors’ bodies covered by a sheet.

The problem with this solution was that it didn’t convey the feeling that the sex scenes in the movie were supposed to express. One of the lead characters in the film—a hugely popular entertainer, played by Kevin Bacon—recounts his sexual exploits like he was an actor in a porn film. I needed these scenes to feel lurid and unbridled. The traditional ‘head and shoulders’ framing wouldn’t work. I wanted the sex to feel raw and exposed.

I’m convinced that the best way to shoot a sex scene and make it seem real is to use a master shot—an uninterrupted sequence with no cuts. I wanted to see the bodies. The overwhelming challenge was how to show two (and in this case even more) people having sex without depicting the act of thrusting.

By its very nature, sex needs thrusting. More specifically, one part of the body must be in some form of friction with another. This isn’t a very romantic way of thinking about it, but then again the MPAA isn’t a very romantic organization. Their job is to count thrusts, and then decide—depending on the number—who should see the film. Nice work if you can get it.

The two male leads are popular entertainers in the fifties. The idea of tantric sex, or anything involving sexual activity in a semi-comatose position, was not a possibility. As the deadline approached for filming these scenes, I began to panic. I resorted to playing with dolls, trying to figure out angles and configurations. Finally, in total defeat, I approached my producer and confirmed his worst fears. It was impossible to show a sexual act of longer than a minute (one scene involved two pages of dialogue) without resorting to some form of thrusting.

And with this decision, we veered our film into NC-17 territory. To this day, I sometimes wake up in a sweat, thinking of other ways the scenes might have been filmed. Errant pieces of furniture, masking piston-like body parts. Tasteful cut-aways to trains, tunnels and collapsing chimney stacks. A lamp falling over at the beginning of the scene, rendering the screen black. All of these solutions bordered somewhere between the coy and the ridiculous.

The sex scenes in Where the Truth Lies are essential to the dramatic and psychological construction of the film. They are playful, transgressive and even traumatic. Like most sex scenes, they involve issues of intimacy, love, power, desire, escape, anger, ambition and a thousand other emotional configurations.

They are also, thankfully, completely uncompromised.