On BARBARELLA and Doing It the Old-Fashioned Way

After being rescued by Mark Hand on the planet Tau Ceti, Barbarella is propositioned for sex. Actual sex, mind you, not the pill-induced meeting of minds that has replaced physical intimacy for the past century on Earth. Our heroine is floored. She’s been taught that sex is an unnecessary distraction.

Not that it takes much convincing for her to try it. Barbarella is nothing if not open-minded about these things, and hey, if her rescuer requests sex as a reward, who is she to deny him? And sure enough, she discovers that doing things “the old-fashioned way” is not always such a bad idea.

The ridiculousness of pill-sex is made especially apparent later on in the film when Dildano, another of Barbarella’s rescuers, requests to make love like on Earth. The result is hilariously impersonal, unnatural, and odd. Undoubtedly much of this awkwardness comes from Dildano’s eager naiveté about the whole thing. [Sidenote: still, this whole scene is less awkward than the ‘sex scene’ from Demolition Man, amirite? I’m sorry, it was impossible for me to write about mind sex without reminding us all of the magical union between Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock. Though I think I could have lived my life without hearing Sly say things like “the wild mambo”. But my point is that Demolition Man gives us a similar example of how perhaps sex doesn’t need to change. End sidenote]

The role of sex in BARBARELLA brings up a frequent theme in the science-fiction genre. Countless stories and films deal with the ethical quandaries of just how far we should go as technologies and societies ‘advance.’ NEVER LET ME GO questions the morality of raising clones to be organ donors so as to extend the lives of their originals. MINORITY REPORT offers the possibility of a near-crimeless world thanks to future-predicting triplets. But how ethical is the method? In BARBARELLA, sex has become a thing of the past because it was “pointless to continue it when other substitutes for eco-support and self-esteem were made available.” But what about the benefits of physical intimacy?

The common theme in these stories, of course, is the discovery that the things we change or “improve upon” are often the very things that make (or made) us human. So maybe we shouldn’t treat clones as mere body back-ups in case we need a spare part. Maybe it’s best to stick with a traditional justice system and wait for someone to commit a crime before arresting them.

And maybe we should just keep having sex.