By Doly Mallet
Yes, we talk a lot about Valentine’s Day and love, but, to be honest, sometimes we are much more intrigued by seduction. Since the time of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798), many tales have been written about how to be a good seducer. There are also many different versions of Don Juan (such as the play by Zorrilla, or the opera by Mozart).
Even existential philosophers, including Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who was also a theologist, were intrigued by the topic. His Diary of a Seducer (1843) is a classic. Many films have been based on these types of characters, especially Dangerous Liaisons.
The movie was released in 1988 and nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, out of which it won three. Based on the novel by Choderlos de Laclos and the play by Christopher Hampton, the film was directed by Stephen Frears and starred Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman, and Keanu Reeves, a fantastic cast. It is a classic, no doubt, and after that, the film industry became obsessed with the story. Many versions were developed:
Valmont (1989), with Colin Firth and Annette Bening.
For Gen-Xers and Millennials, Cruel Intentions (1999), with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Reese Witherspoon, set in a high school in the 90’s.
The Asian version, with Zhang Ziyi (2012).
A TV show with Rupert Everett, Catherine Deneuve, Nastassja Kinski, and Leelee Sobieski (2003).
It is clear now that people can’t get enough of this tale. Why? Because it is about the biggest mysteries in life-– love and seduction, and how each one of them plays with the other.
The original story is set in Paris before the Revolution and describes how the Vicomte de Valmont is plotting to seduce Madame de Tourvel, a devoutly religious wife of a member of Parliament. The Marquis of Merteuil, amused by this, sets up a challenge: if Valmont succeeds in seducing Tourvel and can furnish written proof, Merteuil will also sleep with him.
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This year, Amazon Prime released a new version, clearly meant for younger people. Now, Valmont and Merteuil are in their twenties and lack experience. They are poor and learning skills to climb the social ladder and enter high society. Also, they initially love each other to death, but as it often happens, they come to hate one another. Merteuil feels she has been betrayed because Valmont is a paid gigolo, and many women have fallen for him. However, she is also a professional escort but wants to leave this way of life. Novel actors Nicholas Denton and Alice Englert star. Christopher Hampton produces again; therefore, you can expect great art direction.
The lesson of the original story is amazing: you can’t play with fire without getting burned. Seduction seems easy for those who are skilled: you must learn what the other desires and use the exact words to promise they can have it and create the illusion of love. This has been said in Casanova’s memoirs and also mentioned in newer books such as The Game (by Neil Strauss) or The Laws of Seduction (by Robert Greene).
Valmont is experienced at that, but he underestimated the power of love. He is caught unguarded, believing that he is untouchable, but when he least expects it he feels a pain in his chest, and he is willing to die for whom he tried to seduce. In Dangerous Liaisons, love is a punishment, an unbearable ache, almost a sickness, something inescapable. Seduction, in the end, is for naïve people who don’t really know much about human nature.
The novel by De Laclos is a classic and will endure forever. We can re-watch it in different versions or re-read it, and never grow tired of it because it is about the heart’s secrets. Excellent for this season.
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