Last Night in Soho is a refreshing departure from the slew of films that serve up a sermon on woke dogma. Yet, so far, critics have missed the retrograde subtext of this knife-wielding neon-noir flick: that the sexual revolution of the ‘60s wasn’t quite as swinging as progressives’ rose-tinted revisionism would have you believe. Last Night in Soho reveals how the emotional trauma of prostitution and promiscuity is the true horror of modernity.
Edgar Wright’s horror is a contemporary spin on ghost stories told on Ripper victim tours around London’s back alleys and themed pubs. It captures the debilitating anonymity of city living, with the bustling crowds and barrage of light and sound from London’s billboards and crosswalks. But it’s the vapid hedonistic enormity of student halls which propels heroine Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) into Soho’s sordid history. To escape bullying from her promiscuous housemate, Ellie seeks refuge in the decrepit room of landlady Ms. Collins, where the haunting visions of the ‘60s begin. Just as her housemate’s careless hookups drove Ellie into exile from her peers, the woman in her lucid dreams, aspiring nightclub singer Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy), has her aspirations dashed by the sexual exploitation rife in London’s nightlife. Drug addiction, alcoholism, and verbal abuse are all tools used by boyfriend-turned-pimp Jack (Matt Smith) to demoralize Sandy into abandoning her dignity and resigning to being a prostitute instead of a performer.
Last Night in Soho parallels the prostitution epidemic on the modern college campuses. With the government in bed with university administrations to monopolize student loans and escalate costs, women are being convinced to turn to the oldest profession to finance their education. COVID-19 lockdowns axed a litany of part-time jobs, pushing some students to open OnlyFans accounts to make up for the lost revenue. One in 10 students polled said they would turn to prostitution to pay off debts. My alma mater, the University of Kent, was the subject of a BBC documentary which revealed over 1,000 students became “sugar babies” to pay their accommodation rent. Women were making between $400-$670 a date, with requirements ranging from dinner and conversation to casual or committed hook-ups.
Meanwhile in the U.S., pornography has become a common occupation for college students. It’s no surprise: a symptom of the lockdown loneliness epidemic was increased porn consumption, raising the projected domestic industry worth well beyond $12 billion. But even this dream of porn stardom is a lie, as only one percent of OnlyFans earners make 33 percent of all profits. Women are auctioning off their intimacy for nickels. “Free love” isn’t quite so free anymore. The promise of empowerment through promiscuity has come full circle back to paid objectification.
For all their screeching about “rape culture,” modern feminists have atomized women from meaningful monogamous relationships, and economized and objectified beauty in a dangerous and depressing way. In depicting Sandy’s fall from showgirl to call-girl, Wright’s film shows how damaging putting a price on one’s propriety in pursuit of a dream can be.
Conversely, Ms. Collins’ vengeful misandry encapsulates the accounts of unmarried menopausal women in the mainstream press. Former Cosmo writer Sue Ellen Browder expressed remorse over how she “Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement.” Sources and anecdotes were fabricated to sell women the narrative that a thrill-seeking, childless life of city careers and promiscuous sex was desirable. But those like Candace Bushnell, the author of metropolitan independent-woman fantasy Sex and the City, have admitted choosing a career over children left her “truly alone.” Such tragic accounts form a chorus of women who lament being sold the “You can have it all” lie, once their party-boat lifestyle ran aground on the rocks of their biological clocks.
But to support a return to emphasizing duty, monogamy, and family values, men must match women’s rejection of gender-abolitionist propaganda. Ellie’s love interest, John (Michael Ajao), is the antidote to this past and present wedding of vice and violence. His gentlemanly charity, honesty, and loyalty make him an admirable man. Such a character could have been omitted by other directors who aimed to proselytize about “toxic masculinity.” But John’s chivalry is a model for how men should act, and places the sex industry staffed by predators like Jack in a stark moral contrast.
At a time where Hollywood is creatively bankrupt, perhaps British filmmakers can complement the cinematic renaissance in South Korea to revitalize an art form ailing from franchise and feminist fatigue. Last Night in Soho is honest about the atomization from lasting monogamous relationships, and the push toward commodifying oneself in an over-sexualized culture. It’s certainly worth the price of admission to see Edgar Wright produce something untainted by pernicious wokeness.