15 February 2009


I have wanted to watch the movie "Quills" for a long time. So, a couple of months back I put it on my Netflix queue and waited. Until this weekend.

Brief Synopsis: Geoffrey Rush plays the Marquis de Sade, an author who is somehow penning and publishing smut novels from inside the walls of Charenton Insane Asylum. Kate Winslet is the innocent laundrymaid who is friends with the Marquis and smuggles his manuscripts to the outside world. Joaquin ( ) Phoenix is the benevolent Abbe to Coulmier, who runs the place, and actually treats his patients with compassion, and is secretly in love with Kate Winslet. Michael Caine is the bad guy, Dr. Royer-Collard, who's come in to shut de Sade down on behalf of The Emperor (Napoleon), who feels France should not be subject to the evils that pour from de Sade's pen.

Throughout the story, de Sade's means of writing are slowly stripped away. First, his quills and ink are removed, so he uses a chicken bone and wine, blood and glass shards, and at the end, his own feces. His last tale is telegraphed through the inmates, and transcribed by Winslet. However, the tale is so evocative, and several of the inmates are incited to acts of destruction and violence (ending in Winslet's death). de Sade's tongue is cut out, and he dies soon after that. Phoenix eventually goes nuts, and becomes an resident of his own institution. Caine then runs the asylum with a free, and cruel, hand.

This story was sad on so many levels. First of all, how those in power obviously underestimate the common people. Because of a fear of who-knows-what, the French government sought to keep de Sade's "filth" out of the hands of the masses, fearing just what exactly?

Second, the development of Phoenix's character. In the beginning, he was an optimistic young Abbe who actually cared about his patients' well-being. In the end, his compassion led to his undoing. Moral: Being a good person doesn't always pay off, and sometimes really good people can get really screwed over.

Ultimately, I think censorship is a no-win situation. It gives a inflated sense of authority to those in power, and it undermines the power of the human mind. I think people have an innate right to ideas, and people should have the right to express themselves (in the case of de Sade, the more his right was stripped, the more violent his stories became). That's not to say free speech should go unchecked..I don't believe that either.

There's got to be the free circulation of words and ideas, as well as the education and teaching of prudence and moderation. When it is wise to speak your mind? When is it appropriate to express yourself? When will doing so help you achieve your goal? That is what society needs to learn.

A couple of sayings come to mind when I watched this film: Reap what you sow, and evil sows its own seeds of destruction. So true. I would recommend this film, although it is not for the weak-constituted. It's been a long time since I've watched a film that I couldn't stop thinking about afterwards.

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