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Sunday, December 01, 2002 

Sharp Enough to Cause Orgasm?

Quills is a movie based loosely on the Marquis de Sade’s stay in the Charenton Asylum in the late 1700s in France. It’s fanciful and a bit contrived, but it is a fun and engrossing movie with some delightful subversion and social satire.

While he is comfortably locked up with a liberal but pious priest as warden Sade’s manuscripts are smuggled out by a friendly linen worker. The books become popular, which leads to their burning by the authorities and threats against the asylum from Napoleon’s regime. His writings are an abomination in the eyes of church and state which Sade has his vengeance upon even in death. The rest of the movie concerns the measures taken to silence him (which are not historically accurate).

It could be said of the movie that it makes Sade hip and bohemian, even if passionate, unruly, and sexually/violently obsessed. He causes trouble all around him due to his era’s repressive morality. We see the quality of his relationships with those considered normal as well as those considered mad. While I like the character’s charm, intelligence and passionate mania, Sade was more believable in the earlier Marat/Sade film by Peter Brook. Some features of knowable reality have been embellished for visual appeal. Nonetheless, the attitude of subversion and black humor is appealing.

For Sadian liberation within Fourier’s Passional Attraction, as a common, consensual aspect of everyday life, beyond politeness and social etiquette, we need more than this—but Quills at least raises important questions in an enjoyable way, even if they are not treated in depth, as they are in Sade’s writings.

MK Shibek

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