Thursday, 20 August 2015

Film adaptation - Cruel Intentions

I decided to begin my trio of Les Liasons Dangereuses adaptations with the most approachable and probably best-known adaptation, Cruel Intentions. I did watch it once before, many years ago, but had almost entirely forgotten it since.

Obviously Cruel Intentions is very a modern retelling of the novel rather than a straight-up adaptation, so I wasn't sure how faithful it would be. I was surprised how well the general atmosphere and the concept of the story translated from idle French aristocracy to overprivileged American teenagers, and while several of the characters' relations to each other had to be altered to fit with the new social structure, the characters themselves were mostly very accurately transferred.

I did wonder how well the necessary flattening of the age differences would work (most notably the difference between Cécile and Danceny compared to Valmont and the Marquise), but actually the difference in their characters' relative life experiences in the film made it very successful. The setting of the overdecorated, faux-historical houses really captured the sense of corrupt decadence of the original novel.

One thing that I felt was a shame was that the Marquise (or Kathryn) was turned into such a clear-cut villain. I loved the fact that in the original novel there was such moral ambiguity, and to me the Marquise de Merteuil felt like an intelligent, independent (but admittedly very selfish) woman bored out of her mind by the constricted, idle role forced on her by society. Kathryn actually explicitly makes this point in the film (“God forbid, I exude confidence and enjoy sex! Do you think I relish the fact that I have to act like Mary Sunshine 24/7 so I can be considered a lady?”), and this very effectively sums up the double standards between genders present in both the original novel and the modern adaptation. Cruel Intentions, however, by making Kathryn such an obvious villain, manages to undermine this protest against ingrained gender roles and makes it part of being a bad female role model. (That's my opinion anyway, but I did have a real soft spot for the Marquise in the novel so perhaps I'm reading too much into it!)

The ending of the film was much lighter than the ending of the novel, although I was impressed by the fact that they did commit to keeping one death in, which gave the ending much more impact and poignancy than the majority of American teen dramas.

Overall, I really enjoyed it, and was pleasantly surprised how faithfully the novel was adapted. A great film even if you haven't read the book.

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