Actual question from the 2008 All Souls College (Oxford) entrance exam: “Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?”

I reply:  Yes, it does.  (Though, really, why are they wearing anything at all if it’s an orgy?)

Simply because a person is libertine in his sexuality does not mean that he exhibits moral turpitude in other aspects of his life.  This includes the ability to be offended by Nazi uniforms.  Let’s rephrase the question this way:  does the moral character of a “native and colonial” costume party change when Prince Harry shows up with a swastika armband?

Speaking strictly of the orgy, Nazi uniforms introduce an unsettling power structure.  The ‘conceit’ behind an orgy, if you will, is that everyone gets some.  Since the question overlooks the specifics of the orgy (round robin?  Roman free-for-all?  bukkake?  Wheel of Fortune?), one must assume that everyone approaches the orgy on equal footing.  Nazi uniforms introduce a master/submissive dynamic, which necessarily upsets this balance.

(One could argue, of course, that Nazi uniforms are role-playing, akin to ‘stern professor/naughty student’ or ‘football coach/star quarterback’ scenarios.  But Nazism is acknowledged to be beyond the pale.  Case in point:  many years ago, I rented a — oh, how shall I put this? — a ‘romantic comedy’ called Honorable Discharge.  In one scene, two men cycled through various military uniforms.  “Sailors suck,” the costume aficionado says to the other.  “Soldiers fuck.”  After their encounter, the costumier asks the jejune Lejeune [played by Chuck Barron], “Which would you like to be next?  The Nazi or the Jew?”  Barron, the viewer’s stand-in, gapes in disbelief.)

Which brings us to The Night Porter.  (Corollary question:  does watching the Night Porter the day after Yom Kippur make one a bad Jew? Answer:  Don’t ask me.  I’m not Jewish.)  While I can’t say that I enjoyed the film — the way one does not ‘enjoy’ Salò; or the 120 Days of Sodom — I will say that it’s provocative in examining not only the psychology of Nazi perpetrators, but of its victims too.  I do wonder the film errs in placing too much emphasis on Dirk Bogarde’s suave, murderous SS officer Max and not enough on Charlotte Rampling’s suffering Lucia.  Her psychosexual journey — concentration camp victim to survivor, respected citizen to masochistic prisoner — is the moral heart of the film.

(Here, I’d like to point out my fondness for ‘Naziploitation’ films [Love Camp 7, the Ilsa series], though I haven’t yet had a chance to read any Israeli Stalags.)

Does the moral character of The Night Porter change when Lucia takes charge of her sexuality while performing topless, in Nazi regalia, for a group of SS officers?  Or when she reclaims that sexuality when voluntarily chained in Max’s apartment?  Director Liliana Cavani doesn’t offer answers.  In this way, she’s like the Oxford test-givers, showing how there’s no easy entrance into this world.

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