Quills: I Don’t Think This Title Just Refers to a Writing Implement

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I was really excited about seeing this movie. It has four of my favorite actors: Geoffrey rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, and Michael Caine in most possible his most brooding role ever.

Quills, directed by Philip Kaufman, was released in 2000. It is about the Marquise de Sade. If that name is ringing a bell, it’s because he is notorious for scandalizing Paris and angering everyone (including Napoleon) with his lechery and steamy novels. In the movie, the Marquise (Geoffrey Rush) is in the Charenton Insane Asylum, run by Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) where with the help of a the laundry woman Madeleine (Kate Winslet) the Marquise is able to smuggle out and publish his scandalous novels. His work sets Paris in an uproar, both in positive and negative fashions. Aghast, Napoleon sends a harsh man of “science,” Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to go investigate Charenton. Coulmier has to get the Marquise in line, or face the shut down of his asylum, leaving hundreds of mentally ill patients with nowhere to go.

 

This movie about censorship really caught me quite off guard. What began as a whimsical farce became one of the most disturbing and haunting movies I’ve ever seen. Considering the film’s subject matter, I was expecting some steamy sex scenes, but the closest to that we get is Joaquin Phoenix resorting to necrophilia. Whatever floats your boat, man.

And interestingly, while I sincerely love Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix steals the show, despite his accosting of corpses. His performance as the Abbe caught between God and science, his heart and his vows, rivals that of his role as Commodus in the movie Gladiator. There are so scenes where he is so haunting, so piercing (I guess in more ways than one) that I won’t be able to forget this movie for a while.

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Also, I think this film has more sexual innuendos of any I’ve ever seen. Thought that award would go to something like, oh, I don’t know, American Pie or something. Anyway, if you like blatant sexual humor, this movie is right up your alley.

While I really enjoyed this film, I think it slightly missed the mark. I think the screenwriter and director wanted to drive their story home through shock. However, I didn’t feel like this strengthened their points. Instead, I just felt shocked. I think if the dark side of the movie had been toned down, just a little bit (you know, maybe Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t have sex with a corpse, or maybe Geoffrey Rush doesn’t write on the walls with his excretion, or…). There is a fine line between shocking artfully and being Quentin Tarantino.

For a very strong commentary of some very important issues including censorship, sex, pornography, science, and religion, I give this astounding movie an 8.

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