The Enlightenment Period
Is there interest in the Marquis de Sade today?
Yes. The Marquis de Sade has endured as a glamorous and enigmatic film subject. The 1969 film De Sade was shot in Germany, and speculation about who its director really was continues to the present time. In 1996, the Marquis was revisited in Dark Prince, which was not a blockbuster. The most recent reprise is the 2000 movie Quills, starring Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis, Kate Winslet as Madeleine (a teenager with whom de Sade has an affair), Joaquin Phoenix as the Abbé du Coulmier, and Michael Caine as Dr. Royer-Collard.
The setting of Quills is an insane asylum in Napoleonic France, where the Marquis has been confined because of his licentious, depraved ideas that he graphically expresses in writing. Even while incarcerated, he has been getting his manuscripts out to be published. Napoleon himself is disturbed by this travesty and sends Dr. Royer-Collard, a mental health “specialist” to deal with the Marquis and “cure” him. Dr. Royer-Collard is a hypocrite who abuses his young wife. The film turns on the conflict between the Abbé and de Sade. The Abbé slowly goes mad, and the Marquis experiences remorse for the effect of his ideas on another.
Overall, Quills is an aesthetically sophisticated film that dramatizes the continuously mordant wit of the Marquis de Sade, which coexisted with what would otherwise be unadorned pornography. In defying the optimism of the Age of Reason, he used its reigning weapon.