Monday, October 8, 2012

Sadistic Streak: "Quills" (2000)

The Marquis de Sade has been portrayed on film before, but never this well. Geoffrey Rush is riveting, making him both compelling and disgusting at the same time. A lesser actor would have turned de Sade's scenes into "moments" that could be safely played during an Oscar telecast, but Rush is fantastic.

The Marquis smuggles his writings out of the insane asylum he is in through a laundress, played by Kate Winslet. She is under the tutorship of the young priest Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is trying to help the insane by getting them involved in the arts, and the Marquis is writing popular pornography for the French masses. Napoleon gets in a flutter, and sends the harsh doctor Michael Caine to the asylum. Caine himself has problems as he has just gone through on an arranged marriage with a young teenage girl just out of the convent.

The new bride gets a hold of de Sade's work and eventually runs off with her chateau's Sade, an outspoken atheist, must find other ways of continuing his writing, and does in some very horrific manners.

There is not really a plot here, as the Marquis' privileges are eventually taken away to the point that he is nude in his emptied cell, and still finds time to butt heads with Caine, and God.

Rush is spellbinding, to use a cliche. Joaquin Phoenix is terrific as the young priest. He fights against temptation as well as any clergyman put on screen. Michael Caine gets back into the kind of juicy roles he used to get twenty years ago. Winslet is great as the laundress.

What Philip Kaufman seems to be saying with this film is that words can and do corrupt, but they corrupt the corruptible. The Marquis' literature has negative effects on the uneducated in the film (the inmates, the asylum's illiterate employees, and the naive teen bride), and when put into context of one's life, words alone will not make one kill or fornicate. The feelings, good or bad, are there already, and the Marquis will not change that. It always angers me when some parents' group or clergyman blames the world's problems on Eminem or "American Pie." Impossible to patrol your children twenty four hours a day, you say? Then educate them so they know these words, the music, and the art are just that. Turn the TV off and read to them. If it is rated (R) and the kids are under 17, maybe they should not watch it.

I strayed off the topic a bit, but "Quills" is an important film that should keep people talking about art, censorship, obsession, love, sex, religion, and madness. (* * * * *) out of five stars.