Go back to the Laclos page for more texts and other resources.

Analysis of Dangerous Liaisons

Analysis of Dangerous Liaisons, the film, novel as well as comparitive with Valmont and Cruel Intentions

Synopsis of Film:
The movie is set in pre- French Revolutionary France. The year is 1788. Marquise de Merteuil is the female lead. Merteuil?s cousin is Cecile?s mother. Cecile has just come from a convent. She is the promised new wife of Merteuil?s ex husband. Merteuil wishes to get back at her husband by giving him a ruined woman to marry. She therefor asks her friend and ex lover Vicomte de Valmont to seduce the young Cecile before her wedding day. Unfortunately, Valmont has another conquest. Madame de Tourvel is a religious, married, prudish woman who, with her God fearing nature, has caught the attention of Valmont. To manipulate Valmont to her own needs, Merteuil bets Valmont that he cant seduce Tourvel with the prize being one last night as her lover. The only way he can retrieve his prize however is if he has written proof that he and Tourvel had a sexual encounter. To do this Tourvel must write the letter to Merteuil.

Analysis of Film:
A. The director, Stephen Frears intends us to identify with Vicomte de Valmont. In a way he wants you to sympathize with him but at the same time hate him for what he?s done to women in the past. Throughout the film he is trying to seduce Cecile and Tourvel at the same time and at some points going from one to the other. Both women know each other but neither knows that they are both sharing their bed with the same lover. The only reason you have to sympathize Valmont is because Merteuil uses him to her ever whim. She dislikes her ex husband and wishes him to be humiliated, but the only way she can do this and not have it traced back to her is through Valmont. Throughout the movie the observer can see him being manipulated and feels bad, yet sees it as vengeance for the female characters that he takes advantage of.
B. The over all mood of the story is the usage of sex for revenge. It is evident in every aspect of the movie. Merteuil uses sex to get the revenge of her ex husband, Valmont uses seduction of Tourvel to win the bet and have Merteuil, Cecile?s lover, Danceny, learns of Valmont?s seduction of Cecile and kills him as revenge for Cecile?s loss of virginity. The director even has it so that when Merteuil and Valmont declare war on each other it is more so a declaration that sex will no longer just be the prize, and not utterly the means of obtaining the prize, but it will also be the means of protecting the prize.
C. There are many symbols in this movie. The most obvious one, however, is the letter. During the duration of the film Merteuil and Valmont exchange several letter describing their conquests. Cecile and Danceny?s relationship is founded on their correspondence through their letters to each other. An amusing scene of the movie is during one of Cecile?s educational sessions with Valmont and she uses his back as her desk, writing to Danceny of her love for him. It is truly an ironic moment in the story, yet not so as it is not quite unexpected.
Here are two dialogue sections of the film. One is at the beginning, a monologue said by Merteuil. In it she gives the reasoning of why she is the way that she is and how she came to be that way. Also, since Cruel Intentions is a more modern version of this film, the same monologue is evident from that said by Katherine Merteuil. In it she explains the same reasoning yet with less elegance and pose. Valmont and Tourvel are speaking in the second dialogues. Tourvel is accusing Valmont of the planned seduction of herself while he defends himself while lying through his teeth. For the more modern rendition there is also the same scene re-written for Sebastian Valmont and Annette Harrison from Cruel Intentions. These scenes are important because you can see how cruel and truly evil Merteuil/Katherine is and how easily it comes for Valmont/Sebastian to seduce Tourvel/Annette.
E. Dangerous Liaisons is the first film that was created by Choderlos de Laclos? Les Liaisons Dangereuses. However there have been several remakes of the film and novel. Even though Dangerous Liaisons was released in 1988 another telling of the story of seduction was created in 1989 by the name of Valmont. This film, staring Annette Benning, Colin Firth and Meg Tilly, told the same story but with Valmont narrating where as Dangerous Liaisons had no narration. This story also has appeal to modern audiences as it was recreated in 2000 staring Sarah Michelle Geller, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon and Selma Blair. In Cruel Intentions modern telling of the story Valmont and Merteuil are siblings betting on the futures of Tourvel and Cecile. Though all three tellings of the story are similar there are at least three major differences within them comparatively. In the original, Dangerous Liaisons, Cecile becomes pregnant but has a miscarriage. In Valmont, however she carries the child and the movie ends with her marring Merteuil?s ex husband. In both Cecile becomes pregnant, yet in the modern day version Cecile leaves Sebastian?s room with nothing but a few hickeys. Perhaps it is because producers feel that teens need to know the joys of sex without the impending dangers or that if Cecile became pregnant it would take away from the feel they were giving to the movie. Another aspect of the films is the actual sexual experience that Cecile has with Valmont. In the older movies it is apparent that she is raped or slightly less forcibly obliged to the sex she and Valmont have. However in Cruel Intentions you get no feeling of the force she undergoes. There is more seduction and will than actual force. Again, perhaps producers felt that it would take away from the feel of the movie or that modern audiences would not be able to accept the rape of a famous star such as Selma Blair.
F. The film is set in pre French Revolutionary France. This almost foreshadows the upcoming ?war? between Merteuil and Valmont. It also allows the characters, who are members of the aristocracy, to be over exuberant in their spending and impulsive with their money. A prime example of this is when Valmont frees a man of his taxes when the man couldn?t pay them. Valmont pays them not only so that the man may keep his home but also that Tourvel may see what an honorable man he is trying to become. The aristocrats believe that their money and positions in life will save them. Yet as history tells us it does not.
G. The first image that Dangerous Liaisons opens with is Marquise de Merteuil applying her make up. She puts on so many layers to herself. First the white cream to make her pale, then the blush to soften her cheeks, then her hair is done then her lips. She has covered herself in so much of what is expected that the only part of her that is visible to the onlooker is her mind. The rest of her is hidden under the many layers of clothing. This symbolic act is very important. Never again in the film does the observer see her without her make up or without her many layers of clothing. Even in the sex scenes she is still half-clothed, always wearing at least a nightshirt. Though this is the fashion of that era it is still symbolic of the fact that she covers herself to protect her inner essence. The movie also ends with Merteuil taking off her make up and getting undressed. She does so slowly, crying, mourning the death of Valmont, which she was the cause of.
~Rachel Emelock Copyright 2003

Authors | Quotes | Digests | Submit | Interact | Store

Copyright © Classics Network. Contact Us