It is my intention to compare the book, Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos, to its modern movie version, Cruel Intentions starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. I intend to examine how the original French text was modified in reference to plot, character, morals/values, and themes. I also plan to discuss how these transformations change the meaning of the story and reflect different cultural/historical contexts. There are some major differences between these two works, if only because of when they were written.
First, the plots of both works need to be discussed and explained how they are different. The stories of both works have basically the same structure, until it gets toward the endings. In Dangerous Liaisons, the Vicomte de Valmont dies in a sword battle between him and Danceny. Right before he dies, though, he gives Danceny all of his letters between him and the Marquise de Merteuil and tells him to circulate them in order to ruin Merteuils reputation. Danceny does this and then moves away for a while. Merteuil ends up becoming disfigured from small pox and her reputation crumbles. She moves to Holland because of this. Cecile moves back into the convent and Madame de Tourvel dies of misery because of the suffering that Valmont put her through.
Because Cruel Intentions is such a modernized version of this story, the ending is a lot different. Sebastian (Valmont) dies by being hit by a car because he pushed Annette (Tourvel) out of the way in order to save her life. Obviously, this is a much more modern way of dying in a movie than dying in a sword fight. Also, it shows the Valmont character as being more heroic, which in Dangerous Liaisons, he was not quite so heroic. In the movie, it does not really say what happens to Ronald (Danceny). He fights with Sebastian, and that is the last we see of him. Catherine (Merteuil), like in the book, also has her reputation ruined, but she gets humiliated in a more dramatic way (in front of the student body and faculty). Also, there is the issue of drugs. Her addiction to cocaine is revealed. The use of drugs is a common issue in todays modern movies, and that is one of the reasons Cruel Intentions is different in terms of its cultural context. Cecile and Annette (Tourvel) worked together to produce copies of Sebastians journal, which revealed Catherines true self, and they handed them out to the student body and faculty. Cecile directly gets revenge on Catherine. In Dangerous Liaisons, she does not. This also relates to cultural context. It shows how more independent women are in the modern world. In Dangerous Liaisons, Tourvel dies of misery and Cecile goes into the convent. This shows that women were much weaker and less independent in society in the late 1700s. The last scene in the movie shows Annette driving off in Sebastians expensive car. This is a typical ending to a modern story. In the book, her character dies, but in the movie, she is the vengeful, independent woman.
It is apparent that the morals and values of both works change because of their cultural and historical context. Dangerous Liaisons was basically written to teach young women in society what not to do. This kind of literature was looked down upon at the time it was written.
In 1824 a decree of the cour royale de Paris condemned it to be destroyed as dangerous. This verdict remained the official one throughout the later nineteenth century. The book was spoken of only to be deplored: a picture of the most odious immortality, that should never have been revealed even supposing it had been true, a work of revolting immorality, a book to be admired and execrated.(Laclos, p. 7)
It was considered to be an immoral book. The movie was made mainly for entertainment purposes. Since we basically live in an immoral society, it was well accepted as a good movie. Although the schemes that Catherine and Sebastian thought up and carried out were at times blown out of proportion, I think todays audience is entertained by that sort of character. Catherine and Sebastian were the kinds of people that probably do not exist in real life, and that is why this kind of movie intrigues todays audience.
Next, I intend to discuss some of the themes involving the two works. The theme of appearance is important in both the book and the movie, but it is also different. The character of Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons was a beautiful woman and she had a virtuous reputation. But, she had an evil soul. So, on the outside she was the good, virtuous lady, but on the inside she was devious and immoral. At the end of the book, when she became disfigured, there is a line that is important to this theme: that the disease has turned her inside out, and that her soul is now visible on her face.(Laclos, p. 392) In the movie, Catherines appearance is also very important. She is beautiful and she has a good reputation. Everyone saw her as a person of good faith and she was even class president. But, nobody knew the real Catherine, who was evil and had a cold heart. Throughout the movie, we never see Catherine cry. In the end, when she discovers that her reputation has been ruined, she cries. In theory, this shows that we see her soul. She finally breaks down and cries.
Another theme that I thought was apparent is that of religion. In the book, religion is important, in reference to the character of Tourvel. Throughout the book, she was a virtuous, faithful, and honest character. She relied of God to get her through the days. Also, Cecile lived in a convent most of her life, and then at the end of the book she goes back to the convent. In Cruel Intentions, religion is not apparent at all, except for the fact that Catherine was supposed to be this devout person, but in reality, she was not. The movie portrayed Annettes purity through the fact that she vowed to stay abstinent until she was married. But, in did not have anything to do with religion.
The theme of symbolism is important also. Color and what it represents was apparent in Cruel Intentions. Throughout the movie, Annette was always shown wearing white or light colored clothing. White is a symbol of purity, and this relates to her character. Catherine and Sebastian were always shown wearing black or dark colored clothing. Black is always associated with evil, and this was the very nature of both Catherine and Sebastians characters. In the book, this symbolism is not obvious. The characters clothing is not discussed in the book, so I cannot really apply this theme to it.
Lastly, I would like to discuss the issue of Libertinism. Libertinism was a movement that started in the eighteenth century; about the time Dangerous Liaisons was written. It was a movement of questioning religion and God and of scandalous affairs. The people of this movement no longer thought the world is controlled by God, but by your own actions. The characters of Valmont and Merteuil were prominent Libertines. The book is definitely an example of this movement. It completely represents the values that come from Libertinism.
In conclusion, both of these pieces of work were written in their cultural and historical context. I attempted to compare the two in reference to plot, character, morals/values, and themes and explain them in their cultural and historical context. Dangerous Liaisons was considered to be a condemned piece of literature and Cruel Intentions emphasized this immorality as a modernized version of the story.
Movies Cinema and Films Essays