I reviewed Sex

Dag Johan Haugerud’s Sex (2024) spurs the scandalously sexual for a smart and moderated meditation on the depths – and shallows – of sexuality.


Sex, directed by Dag Johan Haugerud (Barn, The Light from the Chocolate Factory, I’m the One You Want) is a movie about two family men (Jan Gunnar Røise, Thorbjørn Harr), living and working in Oslo as chimney sweeps. One is plagued by recurring dreams of David Bowie looking at him “like a woman.” The other just had sex with a man. Both have previously cooperated with Haugerud on Barn (2019) and are Norwegian staples familiar to many, although worthy of mention is Røise’s recent lead role in the political drama series Makta as the labor party black sheep Reiulf Steen.

Jan Gunnar Røise and Thorbjørn Harr as chimney sweeps in Dag Johan Haugerud’s Sex (2024).

The first installment of Haugerud’s trilogy Sex, Drømmer, Kjærlighet (Sex, Dreams, Love), the film spurs the explicitly sexual and presents itself as a clearly-articulated wish to be seen on one’s own terms. In the wake of Barbie (2023), it is also tempting to think of the film as a snapshot of masculine identities in flux, and deconstructionists will find in Haugerud’s Sex a smudging of the territories of the masculine and feminine, of sex and gender. Worthwhile, I will leave that pursuit of unearthing to those so inclined, and focus on reading the lines – of which there are many in a film as dialogue-driven as this.

The story Sex tells is almost bleakly intimate and stripped-down in all the innocent flavors of the word. There is nothing pornographic about it. On a Sunday in March, it looked, felt, sounded, or smelled nothing like sex – and that’s precisely why it’s worth the trip to the cinema. 

It looked like a screen, on which, a film. A bunch of long still shots staring at me, unflinching and unblinking. The languid camera panned over refreshingly unflattering landscapes of unassuming suburban architecture and an Oslo under eternal construction, although a glimpse of the picturesque Økern swimming pool with its vaulted roof and wooden beams was a treat – who knew we had such a gem? Often the camera lingered indoors, feeling at home in the perfectly ordinary still life of families, resting over cups of coffee and a half-finished breakfast. Only a cinematography so patient could give front stage to the dialogue. It all looked good on the big screen, 20:30 on a Sunday, in fact it looked great, even when bounced off the luminescent face of a man sitting in my row, even when swallowed by his gaping, yawning mouth. What kind of people go to the cinema on a Sunday night anyways? I thought. Are all of us equally unemployed? After coming home from the cinema I googled “sex film,” then “sex film norway,” and had to comb through a curious mix of serious critique on the film and location-specific pornography. You’re well to remember at least the director's last name if you’re to attempt something similar. 

That night, right there, Sex felt nothing like sex. It just wasn’t intimate and handsy enough, you know? The colors were mostly muted, almost overblown, like photographs taken on a sunny day. And so Sex consciously left behind viscerality. Sitting there, I wasn’t inside anything, there was nothing inside of me – although, writing this, I realize it’s obviously not true. I was inside Sal 3 of Vega Scene, my last meal still digesting inside me. Yet I was feeling it. It felt like witnessing a series of open conversations on male sexuality, vulnerability, inconfidence, and the inadequacy of all-encompassing representation through gender. It felt like two protagonists, two intertwining plots: one of sex, as in gender, and the other of sex as in the thing that inevitably pops up when you google “sex film norway.” And so, in a sense, it did feel intimate, like surgical steel on the skin. Sex is the surgical steel and the skin. 

Jan Gunnar Røise and Thorbjørn Harr as chimney sweeps in Dag Johan Haugerud’s Sex (2024).

Neither did it sound like sex. All that was said or sung was done so in the tones of moderate emotion, passed through the multiple checkpoints of rationality and clear-headed socializing. There was nothing unfiltered; after all, it was all clipped, rehearsed, arranged, edited. And yet it sounded natural, whatever that word actually means, natural in all its inhibition, having little to do with the uninhibited and primal. A remarkable and surprising amount of sexiness had however been allowed in the soundtrack by Peder Kjellsby, who’s done previous work with Haugerud on his films Barn and I’m the One You Want. A heavy percussion track reminiscent of both trip hop and jazz, balanced by glistening synths and sparse, yet smooth brass. This is as sexy as Sex gets – the puritans can rest safe, although they might choose to stay away from David Bowie for a while.

Obviously, it didn’t smell like Sex either. I don’t really remember how it smelled, and that’s probably for the better. Through what is said and shown, Sex is a full sensory buffet, not just a venture into what might have been said or what was not said, and worth the watch just for the sake of that alone. Mind you that I can only speak for the film’s last 123 minutes – we came two minutes late. Better than coming prematurely!

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