365 Days is one of Netflix’s June releases that has become a big hit these past few weeks, being consistently listed under Netflix’s category “Top 10 in the US Today.” At surface level, 365 Days can be described as an erotic foreign film—its characters are Polish and Italian, though dialogue is mostly in English—that has a large amount of nudity and essentially no character development. But the movie is not simply a harmless raunchy sexual fantasy, it is a perpetuator of unrealistic and, frankly, dangerous societal ideals about women and romantic relationships.
The premise of the movie is as follows: In the first scene of the movie, Massimo, an extravagantly wealthy, stereotypically hunky, powerful member of the Sicilian Mafia, is shot. But before he loses consciousness, an image of a beautiful woman flashes before his eyes. This woman is a Polish girl named Laura, whom he has never actually met. Upon recovering, Massimo is obsessed with this mystery girl and determined to find her. He bumps into her by chance while she is on vacation in Italy and proceeds to kidnap her, planning to hold her captive for 365 days with the hope that she will, during that time, fall in love with him.
Essentially, 365 Days feels like a warped mashup of a pornographic Beauty and the Beast and an off–brand Fifty Shades of Grey. And there are so many things wrong with it. It is one thing to enjoy erotic fiction or a steamy story that is entertaining—but it should be executed in a way that portrays a safe and healthy relationship. 365 Days does not, at all.
The movie romanticizes kidnapping and harassment, portraying them as forms of courtship. Massimo is aggressive and temperamental, and Laura’s initial hatred and refusal of his affections (though short–lived) frustrate him tremendously, causing him to continuously lash out at her. He is also extremely possessive, treating Laura like his property and dragging her on his various nefarious escapades. He ignores her when she says “no,” or rather, he interprets it to mean “yes.”
The way Massimo speaks to Laura is unsettling and obscene. “Baby girl” could, in the right context, serve as a cute and affectionate term of endearment, but Massimo wields the pet name condescendingly and as a way to assert his power over Laura. Massimo even blames her for his abusive behavior, telling her things like “I lose my vigilance when I’m around you” and “I wouldn't have had to do it if you didn't dress like a whore,” perpetuating the pernicious and dangerous misconception that there is a direct correlation between the way a woman dresses and the way she deserves to be treated.
But it is not only Massimo’s character that is problematic, Laura herself propagates outdated and dangerous ideas about what women want their role to be and what the role of women should be in a relationship. When describing Massimo to her friend, Laura says, “Imagine a strong alpha male who always knows what he wants. He is your caretaker and your defender. When you are with him, you feel like a little girl. He makes all your sexual fantasies come true.”
The idea that a woman is weak and submissive, that she needs to be protected and led by a strong, powerful man is, to put it simply, just messed up. It is incredibly disheartening to see a female on screen subscribe to that narrative—a narrative that portrays women as possessions and prizes to be won, as sexual playthings, as needing a man to feel fulfilled and safe—in 2020.
And it is especially disheartening that Netflix would upload a film like this in the same month that the streaming service released Athlete A, the powerful documentary about Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of young gymnasts and the courageous women who spoke out, brought him to court and ultimately put him behind bars. It is a film that serves as a testament to the strength and perseverance of women.
The juxtaposition of 365 Days and Athlete A highlights the incongruity of their messages. 365 Days is a movie filmed entirely through a patriarchal lens, perpetuating standards and ideals that are oppressive and dangerous for women, while Athlete A fights those same standards and stigmas. But one aspect of these films is the same: they are about a man who uses his position of power to take advantage of women. And fictional or real, these types of men must be stopped.