Now Streaming on Netflix: Maid in Sweden

I guess I should put a Trigger Warning on this. This post will be about a 70’s sexploitation movie that has rape in it. A lot. So if that’s not what you want to read about today, or ever, skip this post.

Round about 2:15 am this morning, I found myself tiring of the Arrested Development marathon I’d instigated. I was unsleepy, and looking to prolong my Roku-induced comfy narcotic cocoon. This is how I came across Maid in Sweden, a 1971 “Romance” starring Playboy model and “Swedish sex bomb” Christina Lindberg that Netflix thought I might like. It looked hilariously dated and ridiculous. I was reminded of my misspent youth watching Troma and forgotten, heavily censored incoherencies of the ’70s on USA Up All Night. I missed Rhonda Shear.

Yes, perhaps Maid in Sweden was the perfect viewing choice for 2:15 am on a Saturday morning. Customer reviews had granted it an average of two stars. The secret to the doubling of the number of stars the film actually deserves is revealed right on the cover art:

Lindberg is very pretty. And, unlike many US productions not filmed in Sweden, she is as naked as promised through much of the film. Perhaps Maid in Sweden wouldn’t have been on Up All Night, actually. After cutting all the nudity, They’d be left with about 25 minutes of unbearable dance and ice skating montage sequences set to swingin’ sixties generarock. All the songs were by the same set of dudes you’ve never heard of, who weren’t even given the dignity of a one-off band name in the credits. Instead, there was a list of crappy songs and the explanation that they were “sung by [list of random dudes].” So I guess the instrumentation I’d heard was accomplished not by bass, guitar, drums, and occasional sitar, but human voices. This may be the single most amazing fact about Maid in Sweden, but I’m not sure. There’s some stiff competition (lol!)

Maid in Sweden concerns Inga, a naive teenage farm girl (really) played by Lindberg. Despite the title, she is at no point employed as a maid. She does, however, receive an invitation from her older sister, Greta, to visit Stockholm and stay at her groovy flat. Inga is very excited about this. She removes her shirt repeatedly in preparation for her arrival in the big city. The big city is fun times, but also confusing and scary for virginal Inga, as Greta Lives With Her Boyfriend. She also drinks, smokes pot, and Has Sex. Sometimes in view of Inga. I’m fine with the rest of it, but: EW. Come on, Greta, are you really going to invite your sister to travel all the way from your family farm just to traumatize her?

Well, yes. The film contains the minimal structural necessities of a coming-of-age flick, but is primarily a series of old school, soft core sex (and rape, more on that later!) scenes, interspersed with dreary montages and occasional stilted, superfluous dialogue. I probably should have muted it, the thing might have been more effective as a silent film. I found myself just resenting the oft- incomprehensible line readings of horrible dialogue. Not funny-horrible, boring horrible. The trailer gives you a pretty good sense of exactly what you’re in for:

Wait, I lied. The bad dialogue looks disproportionately amusing in the trailer.

But about the soft core scenes, which battle it out with Lindberg’s breasts themselves to be the film’s essential raison d’etre: does stuff like this even exist any more? Fairly graphic, full frontal (ladies only, all you see of the dudes is their butts. Which is fine, cuz these dudes are gross) sex scenes that contain no creativity or penetration, but otherwise are just flat-out porn. The film was almost charming in it’s anachronistic cliches, and its visible pubic hair, and far out “Sex is fun! Smoke pot! None of this makes any sense!” message.

Then it got all rapey.

Greta’s live in boyfriend is the immediately repellent Carsten. He was the creepy blond dude in the trailer, trying to get Inga to smoke pot because it’s “relaxing”. He is played by Krister Ekman. Greta is played by Monica Ekman. This raises all kinds of uncomfortable questions that I don’t wish to investigate. From the moment of her arrival, Carsten leers at Inga a lot, usually while “teasing” her in some mean spirited, borderline abusive manner. Inga gets gross glimpses into his sex life with her sister, and is I guess supposed to be both frightened and intrigued. It’s hard to tell, what with the lack of logic, writing, and acting. Needless to say, Inga’s psychology barely exists, let alone makes any sense. She begins having sexy rape nightmares, and thus discovers masturbation, which could be…fine. Sexploring rape fantasies in soft core could be okay, but this shit makes no sense. It has nothing to do with any human-like, real or fictional teenage girl’s fears and desires. It does have a lot to do with the targeted viewers’ desires to imagine raping attractive teenage girls, or watch others doing the same. This scene bugged me because we’re supposed to be seeing Inga’s fucking subconscious, but it has nothing to do with her as a subject. Neat trick, that. Comparatively speaking, though, I was actually not that horrified by the exploitative, poorly shot and edited nightmare/wet dream sequence, even with its nauseating kalidescope f/x and equations of drinking beer with inevitable attempted gang rape and forced lesbianism (really). That was, comparatively speaking, ok. At least it was somewhat novel.

What really creeped me out was when Inga is then actually, repeatedly raped. First by some D-bag friend of Carsten’s, with whom Carsten and Greta semi-explicably send her off into a date-rape trap. And after he rapes her, they start dating! Then the awfully edited young-love montages start up. So many minutes of decent grade film were lost to Inga and the rapist strolling around the countryside, making moon-eyes at one another, all set to that same interminable non-band’s ear-rotting abominations. I still have this one recurring theme (Inga’s?) stuck in my head. Not cuz it’s such a catchy ear worm, just because it was repeated so. Many. Times. I mean, I assume that’s the soundtrack to romantic montages, I fast forwarded. Inga and the rapist also have poorly shot (but seemingly consensual) sex a lot.

Eventually pervy Carsten ends up home alone with Inga, and gets the opportunity to spy on her taking an extra-foamy, slow-motion shower. As you might expect, he eventually bursts in and rapes her. Greta comes home and catches them in the act (in which, at this point, Inga has apparently become an enthusiastic participant, natch.) Greta is sad and Inga goes home, no longer a girl, not yet a woman. Actually, by this film’s logic, I guess she is a woman.

As Whoopi Goldberg might say, of course none of this is “rape-rape”! Partway through each assault, Inga suddenly stops fighting and yelling “No! Stop!”, and starts groping some skeezy Swedish dudes ass while appearing to enjoy herself. The film equates rape with sex, there is just no distinction. I mean, these rapists aren’t even “troubled” or naughty (well, Carsten is, but he was cheating on his gf by raping her sister!) they’re just doing what needs to be done for everyone to loosen up and have a good time. Inga’s initial rape is portrayed not only as not-terrible, but as the greatest thing that’s ever happened in her life. It’s her big sexual awakening, and this isn’t The Story of O here, folks, this is a good old, all-American, Swedish sexploitation romp. Rape was just the necessary way for any two people to have sex for the first time back in the 70’s, at least in Sweden, did you know? Historic, geographical sex fact! It always ended up being a great time for everyone, so no harm, no foul. It’s not even sexist, cuz ladies can be rapists, too! [see: rape nightmare/wet dream sequence]. But they can only assault other ladies, of course. Men can’t be sexually violated, silly!

The message is basically a patriarchal twist on “all sex is rape” + rapists know best. It is, to put it mildly, an abominable message.

Fantasy themes of rape in porn, soft core or otherwise, are theoretically fine in and of themselves. But this shit was gross in its pandering to, reinforcing, and celebrating of horrible hegemonic myths of women’s inherent lack of sexual agency. While feminist and other liberatory movements have made cultural inroads, clarifying the difference between sex and rape, a scary number of people still believe that ladies are all naturally submissive and actually want to be raped even, if they don’t realize and need to be raped-in to it. Lots of people, probably mostly dudes, fail to understand that while plenty of people of all genders can ethically and healthfully enjoy role play or fantasy involving “rape”, actual rape is actually, always, completely wrong and horrifically damaging. It continues to confuse and fascinate me that an adult human being could not comprehend that fantasizing about about rape or happily choosing to engage in submissive scenarios is kind of the opposite of being sexually assaulted. If you have fantasies, they are your fantasies, if you choose to be submissive, you’re (hopefully) making a choice based on your own desires. That’s empowering. Actual rape takes away your choice, is actively opposed to your desires, and is, by definition, always, a violent and violating act. I can’t believe I just had to type that out. But this is what its come to with Maid in Sweden.

At least there are more and louder voices in the mainstream explaining what should be obvious truths than there were in 1971. I wonder how this film was received in its time. The whole sex/rape/fantasy/reality confusion thing was such a disaster then. I mean, at least now you might have to go to a frat house to hear the kind of blatant “Yay-rape, it’s not so bad, why not just try to enjoy it?” talk that used to be all the rage amongst supposedly leftist, activisty dudes [perhaps I should do a future “Now Streaming on Netflix” about Fritz the Cat, I’ll have to check if its still streaming]. To hear that shit now you have to go all the way to…Whoopi Goldberg on The View. IDK, you guys, maybe I’m off, but making “tasteful” (yes, my internet research has, mortifyingly, turned up usage of that adjective in reference to this rapeathon) soft core rape-porn in 1971 seems even scarier than if there was something like this on cable today. Maybe just because its so dated and corny that it’s hard to imagine creepy guys looking at it as an instruction manual (they have actual, modern, un-kitchy manuals now. God, I’m depressing myself.) But at least now, some of Maid in Sweden‘s fans point out that one should not take the rape-turns-to-fun message seriously, or as anything other than a fantasy. Well, one person said something like that. Perhaps more typical was the position this IMDB reviewer/Maid in Sweden fan took:

Inga gets exposed to sexual pleasure during a rape scene, which I’m sure many will object to. She’s being raped but half way through she realizes that sex is something good and I’m sure some might see this as sexist or even worse but I don’t think any deep messages where trying to be send with the scene

Now that we’ve got that clarified, let me treat you to a non sequitur: though IMDB has no record of this, I recall seeing a credit given in the opening sequence to “Mike Hunt”. Also, as IMBD has archived, director Dan Wolman chose the nom de filme “Floch Johnson” for this project.

Despite the fact that Lindberg doesn’t really do much acting in this, she has a nice screen presence and photographs amazingly in the parts where the camera was operated properly. It is true that she is very hot. I can’t really blame anyone for wanting to look at her boobs. There are worse things to build a movie around than giving viewers the opportunity to do this. BUT: said movie didn’t have to be as wretched, creepy, and hateful as Maid in Sweden. It’s a fucked up movie. I watched it so you don’t have to.

If I’ve somehow stoked your curiousity, be prepared to employ your >> button. It’s boringer than I’ve probably made it sound.

5 thoughts on “Now Streaming on Netflix: Maid in Sweden

  1. So I remember seeing Switchblade Sisters at ye olde independent movie theater when they were screening ’70s exploitation flicks for $1 (or was it $3? anyway). Like halfway through there is this scene that is REALLY clearly a rape scene, yet somehow I got the feeling that it was supposed to be erotic, and apparently afterward these two were a couple or something?

    It is one thing to watch something like that and be utterly confused because as a narrative it makes NO SENSE. What is even scarier to me is that apparently in the ’70s this narrative DID make sense to people. I don’t even want to think about all the rapes that had to have happened, with the rapists and maybe even the victims completely unaware that a rape had even taken place because this fucking narrative was so normalized for them.

    1. Yeah. A lot of post-“sexual revolution” cinema is really rape-positive. I’ve done no quantitative research, but anecdatally it seems like rape or attempted rape or threat of rape was often a prelude to healthy romance. The Warriors, which I saw kinda recently, springs to mind. I don’t remember the specifics that well, but I thought the protagonist gang was going to rape the one female character at various points, and then of course one of them falls in love with her and it’s all fine.

      I want to tread lightly on the 70s-versus-today point, because the underlying misogynist ideology of rapey romance is very much alive and well, even if how it’s discussed and portrayed has shifted. I want to believe that mass consciousness has shifted in a positive direction, but it’s hard to measure something like that, and there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary–witness the “progressive” Polanski apologists, Assange apologists, confused viewer reaction to a rape a few seasons back on Mad Men (which I won’t discuss in detail in case you are ever going to watch the show, which you should) etc. I do think things have changed, and overall are better, but I’m not sure how much.

      I don’t even want to think about all the rapes that had to have happened, with the rapists and maybe even the victims completely unaware that a rape had even taken place because this fucking narrative was so normalized for them.

      Yeah. Again, I do think things are better, but this still happens today. I certainly, personally know people who have been raped but never thought to see the situation as such for a combination of reasons, one being how fucked up and confused so much of the culture is about what qualifies as consent. I want to tread lightly here, too, as rapist psychology can be a complicated thing to discuss, and I don’t want to either oversimplify or take any blame off of individuals who commit rape by focusing on the rape culture context. It’s tricky. If people are inundated with material that says real rape is committed by strangers with knives lurking in the bushes, and all else is fair in love & war or what the fuck ever, of course they are being given cultural license to commit rape and/or excuse rape, which based on my limited understanding of the psychology of violence, will increase rape. At the same time, even with this cultural sanctioning, rapists must be aware that they are violating another human being, even if they wouldn’t label the violation as “rape” or don’t understand the extent of the damage caused by rape (as an aside, I have had conversations with men who seemed genuinely confused that someone who has been sexually assaulted is likely to suffer long term, serious negative effects even if there was no serious physical injury. I hate the world.)

      I’m thinking of a study I read about a few months ago and am too lazy to google right now, about “date rape” on college campuses–you know, the kind of rape that poor shlubs supposedly commit by mistake after having a few too many beers with a coed giving mixed signals. As I recall, according to this study (which I cannot vouch for, and obviously getting accurate info about rape is tricky) most “date rape” was committed by serial offenders whose attacks were premeditated. This is kind of comforting, as it suggests that there’s a much smaller pool of rapists than there could be. It also shows that, whether or not they label it “rape”, rapists are very aware of what they are doing.

      1. (Continuing the aside.) Men who haven’t been raped, and don’t know anyone who has as far as they know, seem to think about rape very differently than women in a similar situation. We just don’t viscerally imagine it, especially not what it feels like to be the victim, which is something that it seems many women do instinctively. The difference in perspective makes conversations tough, which is in turn a barrier to educating us.

        The “date rape” statistics in colleges are especially befuddling; the aggregate numbers fly utterly in the face of my experience, or indeed the experience of anyone I’ve asked about it. Something is breaking down badly somewhere. If the study is right, or mostly right, then the question becomes why it’s impossible to get those serial offenders thrown in jail.

        Anyway, one sentence summary: it’s frightening to be both ignorant about a problem and to not even be sure what one needs to learn.

      2. @Seth
        The difference in perspective makes conversations tough, which is in turn a barrier to educating us.

        Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. One core issues is how there’s a taboo against seeing men as rapeable–despite the fact that, of course, far too many men are actually raped. Men don’t want to see themselves as capable of being raped (I mean, no one really does, but women in general are not allowed that luxury) which in and of itself is a barrier to empathy. Encouragement of empathy is a big part of combating rape culture.

        the aggregate numbers fly utterly in the face of my experience, or indeed the experience of anyone I’ve asked about it.

        Which numbers?

        then the question becomes why it’s impossible to get those serial offenders thrown in jail.

        Well, rape is notoriously hard to prosecute even under the most prosecution-friendly of circumstances. Plus most people who have been raped do not try to press charges, as the experience can be so fucked up and further traumatizing in and of itself, and is so unlikely to yield a conviction.

        Thanks for reading!

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