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Film / Sirens

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"In the 1930s, an artist and his models scandalized a nation with their controversial paintings. For a young couple, meeting them was the experience of a lifetime."

"Be seduced"

Sirens is a 1993 drama film written and directed by John Duigan, starring Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, and Sam Neill.

Set in Australia between the two World Wars, the film follows Anthony Campion (Grant), a British Anglican priest, on holiday in Australia with his wife Estella (Fitzgerald). Anthony has been asked by a bishop to visit the artist Norman Lindsay (Neill) when his paintings have been declared too vulgar and offensive to be used in an exhibition. When visiting the artist's home, the couple are baffled and almost attracted by the free and loose ways that Lindsey's models (the "sirens" of the title) flaunt their sexuality. The film acts as a study into the psyche of Estella's mind as she fantasizes and begins to act on her impulses.

This was one of three films that brought Hugh Grant to the attention of American audiences. Also features Portia de Rossi (in her film debut) and supermodel Elle MacPherson in the cast.

Norman Lindsay was a real guy. 24 years before this movie, his life inspired another movie about an Australian artist and his sexy model, Age of Consent.

"Be seduced by these tropes":

  • Acceptable Feminine Goals: Played straight with Sheela and Giddy who wish to be an artist and actress respectively. Averted with Pru who wants to be an aviatrix.
  • Adaptational Heroism: A general example. The Sirens in Greek mythology were evil creatures whose songs lured sailors to their deaths on the rocks. Siren song is also used as an expression for dangerous temptation. Here the Siren analogues are instead tempting their victims to discover something wonderful and passionate about themselves.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Anthony and Estella call each other "Pooh and Piglet", respectively.
  • All Just a Dream: Estella assumes her midnight lovemaking session with Devlin is this. She's wrong.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Rather the film puts across the message that all women should be lustful.
  • Alpha Bitch: Sheela seems to show traits of this as the ring leader of the models - but Pru is the bitchiest one, making her something of a Beta Bitch. Sheila appears to be a Lovable Alpha Bitch by the end.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Rose has one for Tony. He describes Estella as being as far removed from Lindsay's models as "animal is from vegetable". Rose's response?
    "Which is she, Mr Campion? Animal or vegetable?"
  • Bitch Alert: Pru and Sheila's introduction is being condescending to Giddy and making barbs at Estella. Pru cements it by being needlessly mean to Estella at dinner.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: All of the models, with Rose and Estella included that adds two more brunettes.
  • British Stuffiness: Hugh Grant's character, coupled with being a minister. Subverted in a way when we see that the people in the Australian town are like this as well, judging by their attitude when Lindsey's models walk into the bar.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Played with in that Estella bolts upright in classic Catapult Nightmare style, but it wasn't a nightmare, it was an Erotic Dream.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Estella sees Devlin masturbating. Uniquely for this trope (with regards to male sexuality), it's not portrayed as gross.
  • Cheerful Child: Norman and Rose's two daughters.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The models. Pru and Sheela are always shown in bold and bright colours to reflect how open they are about their sexuality while Estella is shown in softer and more subdued colours to reflect how repressed she is. Giddy is shown in a lot of white to reflect her innocence.
  • Coming of Age Story: A late bloomer variation. Estella is a repressed housewife who discovers her sexuality.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Anthony is worried about Pru and Sheela doing this to Giddy. When Giddy poses nude he appears very sad about it.
  • Costume Porn: Justified in this case since the models are wearing costumes for paintings of mythological creatures. They also wear them into town for fun.
  • Erotic Dream: Estella's character arc is completed when she has an erotic dream about floating in the lake, while the three models rise up naked out of the water and fondle her.
  • Fan Disservice: The scene where Estella imagines herself naked in the middle of the Church. It's hard to get off to it when you see her so terrified and trying to cover herself up.
  • Fanservice: There are a lot of gorgeous naked women in this movie.
  • Fiery Redhead: Sheila is a tame example. She has plenty of barbs to throw around but she doesn't have much of a temper.
  • Footsie Under the Table
    • Devlin fondles Estella's thigh while sitting next to her at the dinner table.
    • In the last scene a sexually liberated Estella isn't even bothering with the table, playing footsie with Anthony in the train cabin out in the open.
  • Gender Flip: The painting Crucified Venus, which is largely the provocation for the whole plot, is Exactly What It Says on the Tin: the Crucifixion of Christ but with the nude Greco-Roman goddess of love nailed to the cross instead.
  • Genki Girl: Giddy of course. Sheela is actually quite perky too.
  • Growing Up Sucks: A variation that also serves as a deconstruction. Anthony believes in a woman's innocence and virtue such as with Giddy and Estella, and he is notably very sad when Giddy decides to pose nude. However the film portrays this as a natural thing. Embracing sexuality is used as positive character growth.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Giddy is blonde haired and the most innocent of all the models.
  • Happily Married: Rose and Lindsey. Anthony and Estella too, and really happy by the end.
  • Imagine Spot: Several. Estella notably imagines herself playing with the village boys after the models try to do so.
  • Insult Backfire: Discussed. When Estella walks away after watching Sheela and Pru bathing nude, with Sheela interacting with the "blind" handyman.
    Sheela: What's wrong with her?
    Giddy: She'll think we're (pause) barbarians.
    Sheela: We are! (Sheela and Pru laugh and start splashing Giddy.)
  • It's Not Porn, It's Art: Norman Lindsay argues that the nudity and explicit content in his paintings comes from how he feels about love.
    "There's a fierceness to it."
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All:
    • Pru, who's full of 'information' about Communist Russia and the Industrial Revolution. She and Sheela treat Giddy as if she is this when - perhaps ironically - Giddy does know a few things.
    • Hugh Grant described Tony as such - as a man who thinks he's trendy and progressive. But who would become "hopeless" once he was confronted with a naked Elle MacPherson.
  • Latin Lover: Devlin, although Australian and not Latino, fits the appearance and the sensuality.
  • Letting Her Hair Down:
    • A variation where Estella's bobbed hair is usually shown drawn back behind her ears but when she discovers herself in the painting it's much looser reflecting her new attitude.
    • In a straighter example, Rose's hair is seen down more often when we find out she still models for her husband's paintings.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Deconstructed. Rose and Lindsey discuss how Pagan religions praise sexuality but the Christian church made it into a shameful thing and how it is used to make women second-class citizens. Giddy and Estella view Pru and Sheela as Whores for how they act but the film has the two of them coming to embrace their own sexuality. It's seen as a sign of positive growth when they do so. It also briefly shows that Pru and Sheela are annoyed with the way the village people look down on them. And of course Rose is still a loving wife and mother, and has no problem posing nude for paintings.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: A little equal-opportunity fanservice, as Devlin the ruggedly handsome handyman is shown naked twice.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: From the bathing scene:
    Giddy: "Sheila's got ten brothers and sisters. She wants to be an artist like Norman, but the poor girl, she's heartless."
  • Match Cut: A blasphemous Norman Lindsay painting which features a Rasputin-like figure cuts to the inspiration of that figure, the stationmaster in the town where the artist resides.
  • Meaningful Name: "Giddy" is certainly very much so. "Sheila" is also an Australian slang word for an alluring woman.
  • Mood Whiplash: A soft and calm daydream sequence in the church gets immediately jolted into a different mood completely when Estella imagines she's naked in public.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: Giddy is the nice, Pru is the mean and Sheila is in-between.
  • Nipple and Dimed: Subverted in-universe where the church doesn't necessarily mind the nudity in Lindsay's paintings, only when it's coupled with other controversial subject matter. Truth in Television - at the time, nudity in paintings was fine for fairies, nymphs, goddesses, angels etc. However regular women being painted nude...big no-no.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The blind handyman isn't really blind.
  • Old Maid: Despite being married, Estella fits this quite close since there is no passion in her marriage.
  • Precision F-Strike: During a discussion of the world political scene of the time.
    Pru: "Anarchy is freedom!"
    Tony: "Balls!"
  • Questionable Consent: Estella gives Giddy some of her own perfume, her wedding ring and ties her hair up to make Devlin think it's her he's sleeping with. (Subverted in the end when it turns out Devlin isn't really blind.)
  • The Quiet One: Devlin, who hardly speaks. When Norman jokes that he lost his tongue in a freak boxing accident, Devlin is content to say "Balldust, Norman."
  • Really Gets Around: Sheela, according to Giddy.
    "They're very common."
  • Rule of Three: The three models.
  • Running Gag: Subverted. Sheela and Giddy say their fathers were killed by sharks. When Pru starts to talk about her father's death, Estella assumes it was a shark as well, but he was "blown to bits in a battle." This starts a second gag however as both Pru and Sheela only ever found missing limbs of their fathers. But there is a brief clip of a shark attack in the paper, fulfiling the first gag.
  • Scenery Porn: Some beautiful shots of Australian mountains and countryside. The final scene has a wonderful high shot of a cliff.
  • Shrinking Violet: Estella. Also discussed by Anthony and Lindsay. Lindsay himself admits that he is one and that he hides in his own fantasy world of his paintings.
  • Skinnydipping: Well, you wouldn't expect sexy models who seem strangely focused on awakening Estella's sexuality to wear suits when they go in the local swimming hole.
  • Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Lindsay has a swing; the models use it. The sexual symbolism of the swing is most obvious when Sheela is swinging while Estella is having sex with the handyman.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Estella cheats on her husband with the handsome handyman, but it isn't bad, it's just her sexual awakening.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: The three models. Giddy - the young and naive one - is the Child. Pru - the socialism fan and best spoken of the girls - is the Wife. Sheila - sexual and free-spirited - is the Seductress.
  • Title Drop: Not long after Estella and Anthony arrive, Giddy tells the myth of the Sirens, who lured sailors to their deaths agains the rocks.
  • Tomboy: There's one scene where the village boys are shown playing in the river with a tomboyish girl.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Devlin, who is frequently either shirtless or in the nude.