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Why ‘Atomic Blonde’ Earns Its Steamy Charlize Theron Lesbian Sex Scene

If you can block out the sound of fanboys squirming in their seats, the Sapphic romance is (surprisingly) tastefully done.

"Atomic Blonde"

“Atomic Blonde”

Savvy lesbian cinephiles have learned to be on guard whenever lesbian sex pops up onscreen — especially when it’s coming from a straight male director. While gay men are often portrayed as desexualized comedic relief in Hollywood, lesbians are used for hyper-sexual titillation. Viewers eager for a feminist icon in Charlize Theron’s ball-busting “Atomic Blonde” character Lorraine Broughton should keep their hopes in check, but she does exhibit a refreshingly no-fucks-given fluid sexuality.

A British spy tasked with tracking down a double agent in Berlin just before the fall of the Wall, Lorraine takes out an endless stream of bad guys with killer moves and a poker face so neutral she barely registers a personality. “John Wick” co-director David Leitch makes his official directorial debut with flair, even if the plot is a little predictable. Though the romance culminates in a hot lesbian sex scene, “Atomic Blonde” earns its Sapphic thrills in a few different ways.

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.

Lorraine doesn’t “end up” with a man.

The film hints that Lorraine was involved with recently deceased James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), but her relationship with her Berlin contact David Percival (James McAvoy) remains entirely professional — if not a little contentious. Though Percival lets it be known that he’s interested, particularly after she correctly identifies his weak Machiavelli quote, Lorraine quickly nips that flirtation in the bud. Percival acquiesces, and never makes a move again, something more men could learn to do.

Charlize Theron Atomic Blonde

“Atomic Blonde”

Lorraine’s tryst with French intelligence officer Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) is the movie’s only romance.

Aside from her past with Gasciogne, Delphine is Lorraine’s only romantic distraction. It’s not an afterthought, it’s a fully-fledged subplot told in a few meaty scenes. Neither is it overly emotional; it’s treated the same way a male spy’s dalliance would be. Without distractions, Leitch centers the romance, creating a world where lesbian relationships are just as valid as any other.

It’s the movie’s greatest homage to James Bond.

Though the character could have benefitted from more of James Bond’s cheeky one-liners, one thing “Atomic Blonde” borrows well is his taste in women. Lorraine is naturally skeptical when Delphine approaches her in a super secret spy bar, obeying a rather obvious directive from her superiors to “trust no one.” Her interest piqued, she accepts Delphine’s invitation to a club, where they flirt underneath a neon sign proclaiming: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Delphine is a classic second act Bond girl; her loyalties are unclear, she is initially underestimated, but she proves her worth in the end.

It’s surprisingly validating, not to mention hot, to see a woman onscreen behaving just like James Bond.

It’s no big deal.

Aside from telling a guy at the bar they’re not interested, the fact of Lorraine and Delphine together is hardly mentioned. There are no offensive jokes, no one has to come out, she never has to explain herself. Though it might seem obvious to some, it is unfortunately rare that a queer relationship is treated so casually onscreen.

There is no scissoring.

This is the only litmus test you’ll ever need to discern whether or not a lesbian sex scene is completely outrageous: Is there scissoring? Nobody does that. If they do, it’s because they saw it in a movie and they want to see if it works. It does not. If there’s no scissoring in a lesbian sex scene directed by a man, you can breathe a little easier knowing the filmmaker was more interested in naturalism than in fulfilling a tired male fantasy.

Charlize can do no wrong.

She shaved her head to play cutthroat women’s liberator Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” She shocked Hollywood back in 2003 by gaining 35 pounds to play lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ “Monster,” a risky move early in her career that paid off with an Oscar win. She has been a steadfast and outspoken ally for LGBT rights throughout her career, voicing support for marriage equality in countless interviews. She played gay when it wasn’t cool or hot, and she just so happens to be doing it again now that it is.

Lesbians trust Charlize’s judgment; they know their representation is safe in her hands — even if they’d rather be in her arms.

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