Quills is a 2000 film based on a play that was inspired by the life and work of the Marquis de Sade. The movie was adapted by Doug Wright from his play, and was directed by Philip Kaufman. It stars Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis, Joaquin Phoenix as the Abbé, and Michael Caine as Dr. Royer-Collard.
Kate Winslet also starred as the chambermaid Madeleine. According to Wright, it was her interest in the role, immediately following the success of Titanic, which led to the film's production.
Key smaller roles in the film are played by Billie Whitelaw as Madame LeClerc, Amelia Warner (as Royer-Collard's child bride) and Stephen Marcus as the inmate Bouchon, whose actions are key to scenes throughout the film.
The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Geoffrey Rush), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
The story is a fictional account comprising some facts of the Marquis de Sade's life. As in life, the Marquis writes cruel and erotic stories during his imprisonment. However the film quickly departs from historical fact, although it never becomes quite so surreal as Wright's original Grand Guignol play. This is not a film about BDSM but about a power struggle between the Marquis and his doctor.
The film's opening scene is of a heavy breathing woman whose life's story is narrated off-screen by the Marquis. It tells the story of a perverted woman who finds herself unexpectedly in the hands of a man as perverted, and as skilled in the art of pleasure and pain as she is, alluding to sadomasochism. However, it turns out that this man is not her lover, but her executioner, as she is about to be beheaded.
The rest of the movie follows the Marquis' attempts to publish or perform his progressively more explicit writings, whilst still incarcerated in the mental hospital of Charenton. His novel Justine comes to the attention of Napoleon who orders the Marquis shot. However, his advisor intervenes and recommend Dr. Royer-Collard to be sent to Charenton in an attempt to cure the Marquis from his perversions.
Dr. Royer-Collard is a man who favors torture as a means of treating psychiatric patients, in contrast to the Abbé, who lets patients seek creative outlets, such as theater and painting, as forms of therapy. The Abbé had encouraged the Marquis to write, but never expected his writings to be smuggled out and published. It is Madeleine, the chambermaid who collects the laundry, who helps him smuggle out his writings, in admiration for his work.
The Abbé is pressured by Royer-Collard to restrain the Marquis. The film becomes a spiralling arms-race between the two authority figures and an author desperate to write and to have his work enjoyed by others.
It is this arms-race that is a central focus of the story line, rather than any specific perversions associated with Marquis de Sade. The film also shows the various ways that some of the characters, including Bouchon and Royer-Collard's bride, are inspired into action by the writings of the Marquis.
The film's epilogue features several ironic twists.
Tagline: There are no bad words... only bad deeds.
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