American Pie. Road Trip. Not Another Teen Movie. Add 40 Days and 40 Nights to the list of Hollywood’s most egregious sex comedies.
Celibacy is defined as “the state of not being married” and an “abstention from sexual intercourse.” Ask any semi-with it teenager what abstinence means and he or she will tell you it means avoiding sex altogether (and if they’re really with it, they’ll add “until marriage”). They’ll also tell you it doesn’t mean to “hold off through the middle of next month.” It’s a commitment, not a game, as 40 Days would have you believe. One cannot give up extramarital sex for Lent, as Matt does here. Why not? Because one does not give up sins for Lent. Such a premise defies rational thought. But I digress—an easy thing to do when faced with the daunting task of constructing a review of such an “unreviewable” film as this.
Matt is a ladies’ man. One is in his bed at least once a week. But he’s hung up over one ex-fling, Nicole. He just can’t get her out of his head while he’s having sex with other women. Frustrated by his lack of clarity, he decides to swear off sex for 40 days during Lent. Celibacy. No sex. No masturbation. No fondling. No kissing. His friends quickly place bets on how long he’ll last (Seinfeld, anyone?). And naturally, he immediately meets Erica, the girl of his dreams.
positive elements: None.
spiritual content: Matt compares his “suffering” and sexual temptations to those of Christ’s wilderness temptation recorded in Mark 1. He first stumbles upon the idea of giving up sex for Lent after visiting his brother who is studying to become a Catholic priest. That brother, while at first assailing Matt for his frequent indiscretions (“At some point everything’s not okay and God doesn’t forgive you”), is eventually caught making out with one of the young nuns at the church. When Matt is handcuffed to his bed, he quips that he looks like Jesus on the cross.
sexual content: Shown. Discussed. Joked about. Barely two seconds ever pass without some reference to sex. Included: Masturbation. Threesomes. Bondage. Pornography. Homosexuality. Rape. Early on, Matt takes his date home to bed and an explicit sex scene follows (the cameras don’t even back off during the woman’s orgasm). Matt’s ex-girlfriend rapes him while he’s sleeping (handcuffed to the headboard). Women coworkers stage a lesbian tryst hoping to get Matt to join them. A male coworker masturbates in the office bathroom. Refusing to touch Erica because of his “vow,” Matt blows flower petals across her (nearly) nude body, an activity that brings her to climax onscreen. Matt is often seen walking around with an exaggerated erection easily visible through his pants. Female nudity is also frequent. Indeed, 40 Days and 40 Nights just might hold the record for most breasts ever shown in an R-rated film (during a dream sequence, Matt flies over vast fields and hills composed of mounds and mounds of bare breasts). Matt also imagines groups of naked women walking around the city.
violent content: A swinging door catches Matt in the face. A restaurant waiter accidentally sets Matt’s coat sleeve on fire. A man gets slapped in the face.
crude or profane language: About 20 f-words top a lengthy list of vulgar and profane words and expressions. Crude anatomical jargon dominates many a conversation. Barely imaginative “pet names” for private parts also get plenty of screen time. The Lord’s name is misused at least 15 times.
drug and alcohol content: Social drinking (wine, beer and hard liquor) is commonplace. Nearing the end of his “abstinent period,” Matt turns to cigarettes and booze to dull his senses. Jokes are exchanged about speed and other drugs.
other negative elements: Matt’s friends and colleagues lay down wagers on just about everything that crosses their path. The pot for when Matt will break his “vow” tops $18,000.
conclusion: Star Josh Hartnett was so intrigued by the “novel” idea of “temporary abstinence” that he decided to give it a go in his real life. He failed miserably, lasting only a couple of weeks. “I wasn’t gonna go 40 days and 40 nights,” he said. “It made me a little bit crazy, you know what I mean? It made me understand some of the feelings—just the deprivation. You’re depriving yourself of this one thing, and it becomes all you can think about.” Hmmm. Only a couple of weeks? Try years. Sexual abstinence until marriage isn’t a joke, Mr. Hartnett. It isn’t impossible. Or even improbable. And it isn’t “cruel and unusual punishment.” It’s the way God designed us. One partner, for life.
40 Days buys into the idea that abstinence is a malleable obstacle to circumvent. Some teenagers today truly believe that sexual acts such as oral gratification and “outercourse” are okay to experiment with while maintaining their “vows of virginity.” In the movie, Matt reinforces that idea by sharing an intensely sexual experience with Erica—even arousing her to the point of orgasm—without touching her. Thus, technically, his vow remains unbroken.
Beyond that, Matt’s roommate tells him he’s got to give up his vow because his new girlfriend will think he’s weird—or gay—if he doesn’t sleep with her at least by the third date. And even waiting that long would be inscrutably “old fashioned.” And in the end, Matt regrets ever having tried to be abstinent. “I was trying to take a part of me and make it go away,” he explains to Erica. “I closed my world off and put it in a little box. For awhile everything seemed clear, but then you came along. . . . I screwed up.” To prove it, the happy couple commence a marathon sex-fest—which Matt’s friends once again place wagers on.
Anyone who tries to convince you that this film has anything to do with contrasting emotional relationships with sexual ones is deceived. Salon.com critic Charles Taylor even goes so far as to call it an “anti-sex sex comedy.” It’s not. 40 Days and 40 Nights does nothing more than celebrate illicit sex by, among other things, demonstrating how intolerable life is without it. That’s a boldface lie, but it’s a lie that a lot of folks have given in to.