Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Ice Queen

"It's all right for guys like you and Court to fuck everyone but when I do it I get dumped for innocent little twits like Cecile. God forbid I exude confidence and enjoy sex! Do you think I relish the fact that I have to act like Mary Sunshine 24/7 so that I can be considered a lady? I'm the Marcia fucking Brady of the Upper East Side and sometimes, I want to kill myself. So there's your psychoanalysis, Dr. Freud."

-Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions

I think I was 15 years old when I first saw the film Cruel Intentions. I loved it. The decadent visual style, the opulent, colour-soaked sets and the beautiful clothes made me wish I inhabited that world. Ryan Philippe is a gorgeous man, of course, and he played Sebastian must more likeably than Rupert Everett did in the analagous role of Valmont in the French-language version of Dangerous Liasons. Both Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair are painfully irritating in their roles, though. Selma Blair as Cecile is unrealistically naive, although her quirks are amusing, and Reese Witherspoon as Annette is just plain boring. There's nothing about her that I find compelling and I find it hard to believe that Sebastian could become so enamoured of her. I was, however, drawn to Sarah Michelle Gellar in the role of Kathryn.

She's the only strong, confident and interesting woman in the whole film. The rest are mere caricatures. That's why I found myself getting annoyed when I rewatched it recently: why is this strong woman the only character who is universally vilified at the end of the movie? Sure, she is deceitful, she sleeps around, she's fake. But so are the majority of the characters in the film, all of whom get away scot-free in the audience's eyes. Sebastian schemes just as much as Kathryn does, and he's practically a martyr (or a saint?) by the end. The only part of the movie where the writer seems sympathetic to Kathryn is the monologue I quote above. One gets a sense of Kathryn's inner turmoil and the things that drive her. Unfortuanetly, this kind of insight into her motivation is sorely lacking in the rest of the movie.

I think this speaks to the fear some people have of strong, sexually confident women. They somehow need to be marginalized in order for people to feel safe. Kathryn is written as an ice queen and cocaine addict. Others are called sluts, or written off in other ways. It just reminds me that no matter how far society has advanced towards sexual liberation (particularily for women) the more the old sterotypes are still alive and well.


Blogger LocuTus of Borg said...

I actually have never seen that movie. There was not really anything that interested me in seeing it, but I like your take on it. Plus Sarah Michelle Gellar rocks anyway ;)

2:46 PM  
Blogger Shawn Oster said...

Interesting, I wasn't as taken with that version of the movie. My favorite was of course the one that I've always thought of as "the original", the one with Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich playing a decadent Sebastian. I believe the one you are talking about with Rupert Everett was done in 2003 while the much better American version was done in 1988.

Ryan Philippe is attractive yes but he never really seemed devious. Instead he came off more like an attractive trust-fund baby that was used to getting what he wanted because of his genetics and money with no real power of manipulation. There was no subtle downfall of Isabelle (the original name of the character Sarah Michelle Gellar played). Uma Thurman as C├ęcile in the 1988 version is an amazing study in naivety and Michelle Pfeiffer just makes you ache as her innocence is put through the thresher.

The 1988 version is very understated and subtle, as any true French adaptation should be.

1:36 AM  

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