So The Fireman’s Ball will have to wait a little longer, since I’m going to be discussing Quills today. This film actually has nothing to do with my cinema module, and is instead for a module on cultural theory. Actually, we are studying it in conjunction with Plato and Aristotle, which should give an indication of (a) how cool my lecturer is, and (b) why I really, really like this module.

Quills, 2000, source google images / rottentomatoes.com/m/quills

Actually, I like this module a lot more than I liked the film. The first half was very good, but the second was…disturbing. Necrophilia-level disturbing. That’s (unfortunately) not much of an exaggeration, and even more unfortunately, it relies on the ‘it was all a dreeeeeam’ trope to excuse Joachin Phoenix boning a dead Kate Winslet on the church altar.

While it had some very good points about representation in art, and the role of art in society, the message was included with all the subtlety of an acme anvil. Though, considering that’s what we were looking at in Plato and Aristotle, at least that made it easy in terms of studying.

If you’re looking for a film about the above, or just want to see Kate Winslet’s boobs/Geoffrey Rush’s bum, I highly recommend it. If you want to learn more about the Marquis de Sade, find another source. The author of the book the film was partially based on heavily criticised the film in an excellent article called Perverting de Sade.

There was a lovely leitmotif with the use of the French traditional song Au Clair de la Lune. It’s sung or hummed by multiple characters, as well as incorporated into the score. The reason it’s so pertinent comes from the lyrics of the first verse:

Au clair de la lune, mon ami, Pierrot,

Prêtes-moi ta plume pour écrire un mot.

Ma chandelle est morte; je n’ai plus de feu.

Ouvres-moi ta porte, pour l’amour de Dieu.


By the light of the moon, my friend, Pierrot,

Lend me your quill to write a few words (lit. a word)

My candle is dead; I’ve no more light (lit. fire).

Open your door to me, for the love of God.

I don’t do rhyme, so that’s what you get. Anyway, it ties in nicely with the theme of writing as a compulsion, and with how the doctor and the abbé try to prevent de Sade from writing his books.

It definitely raised interesting points on the role of literature in society. A few key quotes:

Abbé: But isn’t that the duty of art: to elevate us about the beast?

Marquis:  It’s a fiction, not a moral treatise.

It reminds me of how Victorian literature was supposed to have some purpose, and therefore contained a lot of moralising and social commentary, and the subsequent breakaway from that doctrine by Modernist writers. It also brings to mind current debates about YA literature. So many people complain about Twilight and Harry Potter, and seem to judge YA based on the message it sends ‘the youth’, and not on literary merit. I mean, a good message can make a text more enjoyable, but should it be necessary? Is it required that children and teenagers should always learn something from literature? We don’t complain that Spongebob isn’t educational.

By all means, don’t take this as an endorsement of harmful messages in YA lit, but think about whether these harmful messages merit banning, censorship, or merely more conversations with the readership of the texts, or perhaps more education on critical reading in schools.

Another important quote:

Marquis: Suppose one of your inmates purported to walk on water and drowned: would you blame the Bible?

This quote, more than the previous, speaks about what responsibility we give authors, and whether or not it’s deserved. It seems like every single celebrity today is supposed to be a role model, and characters from books are by no means exempt: not to flog a dead tree, but how many times have people said “Bella from Twilight is such a terrible role model! How could anyone read these books?” Or lauded Hermione from Harry Potter as a role model for young girls, because she studies and is smart?

Getting a little more in-depth, a lot of criminals have claimed inspiration from literature and music. To what extent do we as a society hold the creators of these texts responsible for the acts that people do in their name? For that matter, if we do hold these people responsible to any extent, does/should that apply to the Bible?

So I’ve said less than nothing about either Aristotle or Plato, but I might come back to them at a later date. Since this is getting pretty long already, I think I’ll cut this review short. Well, not that short.

(Note: the quotes may not be entirely accurate. I wrote them down as I was watching the film, but that was a few days ago, and I might have misheard something.)


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