Quills is a look at the way cruelty plays out in many relationships. Sometimes it is seen as inappropriate. Other times we overlook the cruelty because it seems so appropriate -- or even natural.
-Review by Darrel Manson


This page was created on January 13, 2001
This page was last updated on May 16, 2005

Directed by Philip Kaufman
Written by: Doug Wright

Geoffrey Rush .... The Marquis de Sade
Kate Winslet .... Madeleine
Joaquin Phoenix .... Coulmier
Michael Caine .... Dr. Royer-Collard
Billie Whitelaw .... Madame LeClerc
Patrick Malahide .... Delbene
Amelia Warner .... Simone
Jane Menelaus .... Renee Pelagie
Stephen Moyer .... Prouix
Tony Pritchard .... Valcour
Michael Jenn .... Cleante
Danny Babington .... Pitou
George Yiasoumi .... Dauphin

Produced by Julia Chasman Mark Huffam (co-producer), Peter Kaufman, Des McAnuff (executive), Sandra Schulberg (executive), Nick Wechsler, Rudulf Wiesmeier (executive)
Original music by Stephen Warbeck
Cinematography by Rogier Stoffers
Film Editing by Peter Boyle

Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, violence and language.

USA - November 22nd 2000, UK - January 19th 2001,
Australia - March 1st 2001, Belgium - February 14th 2001,
Denmark - January 26th 2001, Germany - March 15th 2001,
Iceland - February 2nd 2001, Netherlands - February 15th 2001

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There are no bad words...
only bad deeds.



You are about to embark on a gothic tale of virtue and vice, of comedy and terror, of love and shocking erotica, of brutal censorship and, ultimately, the uncrushable spirit of the human imagination.

Be forewarned. This is the imagined story of the final days of the Marquis De Sade, the writer, rebel and sensualist who explored the darkest, even criminal, impulses of human passions and was proclaimed at once among the most devilish monsters and the freest spirits the world has known.

Historical biographies tell us that in the Marquis' last decade, the man whose name was synonymous with sadistic lust fell in love, and that the maverick libertine who celebrated expression at all costs was almost silenced. Banished to the Charenton Asylum for the insane, the Marquis De Sade continued to write his blasphemous novels . . . until a new doctor was brought in to "cure" him of his wicked desires.

But where history leaves off, QUILLS sets out on a daring journey into the corridors of Charenton Asylum and deep inside the Marquis De Sade's forbidden cell, in which everything but the very act of creation could be caged. Director PHILIP KAUFMAN ("The Right Stuff," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being") brings to life the Marquis De Sade's seductive, sinister world with a cautionary tale about what happens to the light of Charenton when the doctors attempt to shut out the darkness. The screenplay is by DOUG WRIGHT, based on his award-winning play which was acclaimed by critics not only as a provocative comedic thriller but as a modern metaphor about freedom of expression and civil liberties.

Click to enlargeAcademy Award winner GEOFFREY RUSH stars as the witty yet wicked Marquis De Sade, who is living in exile in his own posh suite at the Charenton Asylum. Here, he has befriended the progressive young asylum director Abbe Coulmier (JOAQUIN PHOENIX), a man ahead of his times, Click to enlargewho believes in treating his patients humanely, providing means for creative expression. In this atmosphere, the Marquis has also found it easy to strike up a friendship with the comely young laundress Madeleine (KATE WINSLET), who helps him to smuggle out his prolific writings for publication ? and whose innocent affections are equally enjoyed by the conflicted Abbe.

Then Charenton gets a new chief physician, Dr. Royer-Collard (Academy Award winner MICHAEL CAINE), who has been commissioned by Emperor Napoleon himself to cure the Marquis De Sade and stop the flow of his pen forever. Charenton soon erupts not only in a battle between doctor and patient, but between art and censorship, libido and inhibition, morality and brutality, passion and persecution.

For it seems the more the Marquis De Sade is prevented from expression, the more he is provoked

? 2000 Fox Searchlight Pictures

Pastor, Artesia Christian Church, Artesia, CA

Click to enlargeQuills is a look at the way cruelty plays out in many relationships. Sometimes it is seen as inappropriate. Other times we overlook the cruelty because it seems so appropriate -- or even natural.

Click to enlargeHow could anyone be as cruel as the Marquis de Sade? Certainly he was a sick and depraved man -- an aberration -- unlike men and women of refinement, right?

Quills is a look at the way cruelty plays out in many relationships. Sometimes it is seen as inappropriate. Other times we overlook the cruelty because it seems so appropriate -- or even natural.

Click to enlargeQuills has received a good deal of critical acclaim for both the performances and for the story. To be sure, Geoffrey Rush and the rest of the cast are marvelous. But the subject matter of the film is not for everyone. Many will be upset, offended or repelled by this look at de Sade and his views. The movie is dark, forbidding and full of malevolence and violence -- but, of course, so was de Sade.

Click to enlargeThe story takes place at the asylum at Charenton where the Marquis is held. (De Sade spent many years here, in part because of his writing, but mainly because he tortured women for his pleasure. He is here, instead of prison, because his wife pays for it -- better an insane husband than a criminal one.) Click to enlargeHe smuggles out his pornographic stories with the help of one of the chambermaids, who is enthralled with the stories and his writing, as are many in France. The asylum is run by Abb? Coulmier, who is himself oddly attracted to this man of education, culture and refinement. The Abb??s view of treatment is to give the inmates artistic ways of working through their obsessions rather than acting them out. The writing is de Sade?s therapy, but it isn?t meant to be published.

Click to enlargeIn a crackdown on de Sade, Dr. Royer-Collard is sent to the asylum to get him under control. He is a man of science -- his treatments are seen as the best way to cure the insane. De Sade keeps writing, with anything he can find, but eventually, Royer-Collard wins out and controls the asylum, destroying de Sade.

Click to enlargeWhat makes the movie powerful and difficult is the cruelty that goes on throughout. We seldom see de Sade being cruel (we just know he is from his history), but we see all the other characters being cruel in various ways. Royer-Collard relishes using his "calming chair" (a device that dunks the insane repeatedly into ice water). But that cruelty is okay, because this is science and is meant to heal. Click to enlargeWhen he brings home a young wife, we see his cruelty in bed with her. But that is okay, too, because she is, after all, his wife and has a wifely duty (keep in mind this is early 19th Century). Later, when she leaves him with the architect who has been redoing the house, she leaves a cruel note. But that is okay, he deserves it for the way he has mistreated her.

I think the central scene in the movie is when de Sade and other inmates put on a play. At the last minute, de Sade substitutes his own work, that is a sex filled farce focused on the doctor and his young wife. When the Abb? comes to confiscate the Marquis? writing material in punishment, de Sade says, "All I did was hold up a mirror. He didn?t like what he saw." That is, I think, what this movie is trying to do. Make us look into a mirror and see what we do not want to see.

De Sade was indeed an aberration. Not many are as cruel as he was in the ways that he was. But to watch this film is to see that there may well be a bit of him that lives in us all.


Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel. -Proverbs 11:17 NLT

Jesus: "I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill." -Matthew 5:22 Message

If anyone boasts, "I love God," and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? -1 John 4:20 Message

Jesus: "Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life." -Matthew 5:38-41 Message

Quills ? 2000 Fox. All rights reserved.