***.5 GM
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Amelia Warner


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I knew going into this that I was going to have to see Geoffrey Rush naked. He's playing the Marquis de Sade, a guy in the late 1700s in France that was really into being as perverse and lewd as possible. I'd just hoped I'd see enough of Kate Winslet naked to make up for it. That wasn't quite the case.

Unpleasant nudity aside, this is an interesting film - taking the age-old debate of "does the media corrupt minds, or are the minds already corrupted before they get to the media in question" that so pervades culture now, what with that satan-rocker Marilyn McCoo and shock-rapper Reezuzpeezuz being all the rage now, and showing off the crueler ways people used to have of suppressing voices that they felt shouldn't be heard. The entire film takes place in the asylum that the Marquis has been confined to, where the well-meaning priest that runs the place (Joaquin Phoenix) has tried to give the inmates some constructive ways to work through their illnesses - in the Marquis' case, letting him vent all his depraved thoughts with paper and quill. Unbeknownst to him, there's a laundry babe (Winslet) that's into the stories, and secretly weasels them out to get published, where it causes enough of an uproar to earn the wrath of Napoleon. Thus Michael Caine, Health Hardass Extraordinaire, is sent to straighten things out and teach ol' De Sade a lesson or three. And he takes a teenage wife from a convent on the side, which leads to more unpleasant sex.

It's a pretty gruesome film at times, accurately depicting the puritan and totalitarian mindset that could understandably give rise to people such as the Marquis de Sade, determined to undermine the dominant philosophy in any and every way possible. Not to say that De Sade was a revolutionary hero - he was a selfish, disturbed and twisted chap. Then again, it might have all been manufactured for shock value, like it is with most of these goobers today. Yet this film lets us understand why it can be so energizing and exciting to be a part of such incendiary and intentionally offensive activities out of sheer spite for the status quo.

There were a couple of moments that looked like screw-ups, when Winslet, fresh after getting her back whipped bloody once she's discovered, is shown sleeping on her back and, later, pressed against the wall without registering any pain. That and the unpleasant sex are the only things I can really say negatively about the film. It managed to convey the glorious and invigorating highs that can be gleaned from depravity without a lot of unnecessary titillation, and as Joaquin slowly descends into madness himself, it's left up to the viewer to decide what caused it - was the struggle to save the soul of de Sade to blame for exposing him to such vile thoughts, or was he predisposed to a fractured mentality due to already-present unholy impulses... or did one exacerbate the other?

This question is further explored in the case of Michael Caine's teenage convent bride (Amelia Warner). She despises her lot in life as the plaything of this cruel old bastard that doesn't realize he's a bastard, and upon hearing of the patient that most vexes him, she seeks out his writing, finding inspiration in it to manipulate Caine's architect into running away with her. Now was it De Sade's writing that truly caused her to run off, or would she have found a way to do it regardless?

Most likely, the answer involves both elements, despite the argument that no one would blame the Bible if some guy died while trying to walk on water, and that many people read De Sade's depraved text without getting locked up or killing anyone, much the same way people can listen to James Brown without actually jumping back and kissing themselves. However, simply abolishing one of these elements is not going to solve anything, since the predisposition towards violence/suicidal tendencies/what-not is still present in a lot of people, and they'll find other ways of acting out. So pay enough attention to your kids to notice this kinda stuff. Maybe that'll help. I don't know.

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