*This post contains spoilers about Claire’s Knee*
|Poster for Claire's Knee, featuring the titular knee.|
The aristocrats of pre-revolutionary France were a decadent bunch, and now they they’re safely dead and can no longer oppress the peasantry, they can serve as a source of guiltless delight for us. Of the French literary productions of that period, few have exerted such a continual fascination down the ages as Choderlos de Laclos’s 1782 epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisions; for some reason it sounds cooler in French). Let me say right off the bat that I have not read Dangerous Liaisons, nor do I have a good reason for not doing so. It’s just never occurred to me, while at a bookstore or library, to pursue de Laclos’s book. But I know what it’s about! Because it’s become almost a rule of thumb at this point that every filmmaker worth his or her salt has to make an adaptation of the book: Stephen Frears did a 1988 film called Dangerous Liaisons, Miloš Forman did an ’89 film called Valmont, E J-yong did a Choseon-era adaptation called Untold Scandal in 2003, and just last year Hur Jin-ho did a version set in 1930’s Shanghai (future line of inquiry: why are the Koreans so fond of Dangerous Liaisions?) There must be something eminently cinematic about de Laclos’s book, which is somewhat surprising given its epistolary structure (at least, I’ve never heard of anyone trying to adapt Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa for the big screen [Note: The BBC apparently turned it into a TV series in the early ‘90’s starring Sean Bean of all people]).
|Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos, author if Les Liaisons dangereuses.|
Now, what’s striking about Aurora and Jérome is how inoffensive they seem for most of the movie. They may be shallow and pretentious, but Christ, who isn’t? And they’re certainly charming people. And they’re not trying to “destroy” people like their ancient régime analogues. But what makes them progressively more sinister is how completely oblivious they are to the harm that their actions cause other people. They may be jaded adults for whom love and sex are just games, but Laura and Claire, as passionate young people, still take these things seriously. It’s not a game for them, it’s quite real; and the emotional damage of Jérome’s depredations is going to be real. But at the conclusion of the film, not only does Jérome not realize that he’s an asshole, but he actually thinks that his successful touching of Claire’s knee (which he facilitated by convincing her that Gilles was cheating on her, which he was, but it wasn’t Jérome’s place to tell her) is actually a “good deed,” because he separated her from an asshole like Gilles. Jérome reveals himself to be a real smug, self-satisfied prick, and Aurora just chuckles knowingly at him, because she’s no better.
There are still Mertueiuls and Valmonts among us, and although the stakes may not be as high as they were in de Laclos’s time, the jaded and the heartless still take vicious delight in harming the young and the sincere.