How can someone so charming be so manipulative?Cruel Intentions
is a 1999 American drama film written and directed by Roger Kumble. The movie is a comedic and dramatic appropriation of the 18th-century French epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Laclos, but unlike other modern film versions of the novel (Dangerous Liaisons
) is not set in the France of that time.
The story follows a handful of wealthy teenagers living in modern New York City. The plot is mainly driven by a bet held between the two main characters, and it heavily involves manipulation, seduction, and love in a rich and sophisticated socially elite youth atmosphere.
The film started as an independent film with a much smaller budget, and was later picked up by Columbia Pictures. The film was released on March 5, 1999. It was later followed by two direct-to-video films: a prequel, Cruel Intentions 2
, and a sequel, Cruel Intentions 3
Tropes associated with this work:
- Adults Are Useless: The teenagers run the show and use their elders as pawns. In the second film, Kathryn and Sebastian's parents are essentially middle-aged versions of their children respectively. Responsible authority figures apparently don't exist in this universe.
- All Girls Like Ponies: The second movie uses a racy version of this trope where proper horse-riding technique is used as a metaphor for sex.
- Alpha Bitch: Deconstructed with Kathryn. She is the most popular girl in school and regularly abuses the privilege, but she is also a borderline recluse much of the time and confesses to Sebastian that she isn't really happy with her life. Honestly, her desire to want to humiliate other girls is more out of envy than pure sadism.
- Am I Just a Toy to You?: Inverted. Sebastian tells Annette that she was this when he breaks up with her. She doesn't believe him, because he is visibly trembling and miserable as he says it, but still finds it too painful to stay with him.
- Again, Kathryn (Type II). She's actually more of a Jerkass Woobie with the "woobie" part significantly reduced, in that so many of her cruel schemes are motivated by a Scrooge-like resentment toward the rest of the world. When she sheds tears at the end, it's arguably less out of shame than out of relief; she doesn't have to hide any more.
- Sebastian, too (also a Type II). He's as scuzzy as his stepsister in the beginning, but as the tale progresses his saving graces become much more evident.
- Armoured Closet Gay: Annette's friend Greg plays on the football team and makes himself out to be a heterosexual jock type. Of course he isn't, which is taken advantage of by Sebastian.
- Batman Cold Open: Sebastian's session with the psychologist to deal with his "sexual addiction." This also serves as his Establishing Character Moment, where he comes onto his doctor who, after he leaves, receives a phone call from her crying daughter telling her that Sebastian seduced her and let him take nude photos of her that he posts on the internet. Game, set, match.
- The Bet: The whole plot revolves around a bet two step siblings make. Kathryn promises she will sleep with Sebastian only if he manages to sleep with Annette (the headmaster's daughter) before school begins. Sebastian ends up falling in love with Annette instead.
- Betty and Veronica: Sebastian must choose between his affections for the sweet, blond Annette and the cruel, dark-haired Kathryn.
- Big Bad: Kathryn
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Kathryn.
- Bittersweet Ending or Downer Ending: Kathryn gets her comeuppance in the end, but Sebastian dies, both Annette and Cecile seem to have become more corrupted from the experience, and even Kathryn's defeat (set to The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony") isn't pleasant. It's more bittersweet if you choose to be hopeful about all three girls' futures, so it's all up to the audience to decide in the end.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Sebastian and Blaine
- Book Ends: The opening scene is the same as the last scene, except with Annette replacing Sebastian.
- Brother-Sister Team: The manipulative Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont are step-siblings - and yes, that particular loophole is milked for all it's worth.
- Butt Monkey:
- Cecile in the first movie.
- Cherie in the second.
- The Cake Is a Lie: When Sebastian comes to collect from Kathryn, she just laughs in his face and gives him a "Reason You Suck" Speech. Unusually for this trope, there is no indication that it was a lie from the start, and it seems like Kathryn intended to keep her end of the deal until she realised Sebastian had truly fallen for Annette and got jealous.
- Camp Gay: Blaine
- Catholic School Girls Rule: Though their uniforms are more drab and conservative than is popularly portrayed.
- Chekhov's Gun: Sebastian's journal. He's seen with it throughout the film writing or inserting pictures. He later delivers it to Annette for her to read in order to wipe his slate clean. After Sebastian's untimely death due to Kathryn's manipulation, Annette does something else with it. See Cry For The Devil below.
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: The psychiatrist is about to go on a book tour to promote her Great Parenting manual, however when she finds out her daughter was manipulated and had nude photos of herself put on the internet, her response is neither kind nor particularly constructive.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Sebastian and Kathryn wear black and other dark colors, while Annette prefers white and pastels.
- Consummate Liar: Kathryn, Sebastian. Annette's best friend, Greg, qualifies as well
- Corrupt the Cutie: Cecile.
- Covered in Mud: In the second film, Sebastian pushes Kathryn in a pool of mud as a declaration of war.
- Deadpan Snarker: Sebastian and Kathryn both have mastered the art form.
- The Ditz: Cecile.
- Divergent Character Evolution: An inverted example. In the prequel Sebastian is kind and considerate, and Kathryn is cold, calculating, and uses sex as a weapon; and frequently destroys other peoples lives for her own amusement or revenge. Both try to convert the other to their way of thinking, but Sebastian is broken by Kathryn and ends up becoming a male version of Kathryn.
- Diving Save
- The Dog Bites Back: Cecile is the one that photocopied the journals. And to further add salt to the wound, she personally hands one to Kathryn.
- Evil Gloating
- Evil Tastes Good: Kathryn basically says this in one scene.
- Evil Is Scared Of Feeling Good: "....She made me laugh."
- Sebastian Valmont is Vicomte de Valmont
- Kathryn Merteuil is Marquise de Merteuil
- Annette Hargrove is Madame de Tourvel
- Cecile Caldwell is CÚcile de Volanges
- Ronald Clifford is Chevalier Danceny
- Bunny Caldwell is Madame de Volanges
- Court Reynolds is Comte de Gercourt
- Helen Rosemont is Madame de Rosemonde
- Sebastian's journal represents the letters Vicomte de Valmont possessed
- Faux Affably Evil: Kathryn.
- Fille Fatale: Kathryn is the poster child of this trope.
- Flirty Stepsiblings
- For the Evulz
You were very much in love with her. And you're still in love with her. But it amused me
to make you ashamed of it. You gave up on the first person you ever loved because I threatened your reputation. Don't you get it? You're just a toy, Sebastian. A little toy I like to play with. And now you've completely blown it with her. I think it's the saddest thing I've ever heard.
- At least, she says that's the reason to Sebastian. It's heavily suggested that jealousy in regards to her twisted relationship with Sebastian was the actual driving force at work. In that light, "For the Evulz" is a less creepy reason.
- Obviously, her true motive was jealousy, but her professed motive was For the Evulz. If someone would like to flesh out I Am Not Jealous, that would be a fitting trope to add as well in this instance.
- French Jerks: Okay, technically Sebastian and Kathryn are French-Americans. But, they're still jerks.
- Freudian Couch
- Freudian Excuse: Kathryn states hers in one scene to Sebastian.
Kathryn: It's all right for guys to fuck everyone... ...but when I do it, I get dumped for twits like Cecile. God forbid I exude confidence and enjoy sex. Do you think I relish acting like Mary Sunshine so I can be considered a lady? I'm the Marcia-fucking-Brady of the Upper East Side... ...and sometimes I want to kill myself. There's your psychoanalysis, Dr. Freud.
- Genre Savvy: Annette sees straight through most of Sebastian's tricks, and doesn't start to fall for him until his feelings are actually genuine.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Sebastian is an "evil smoker".
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Beautiful young virgin Annette
- Hands-On Approach: With a Cello.
- Heel-Face Turn:
- Sebastian, who's every bit as slimy as his stepsister at the beginning, just couldn't continue being such a jerk after Annette genuinely won his heart.
- Heroic Sacrifice: After Annette is pushed onto the road by Ronald during his and Sebastian's fight, Sebastian pushes her out of the way of an oncoming car and gets hit himself. He would succumb to the accident.
- I'm Back: Sebastian tries to invoke this after breaking up with Annette, but he overdoes his performance and he's clearly been crying, so it's not all that convincing.
- Instant Seduction: Sebastian, apparently. In his first scene he tells a girl that she's beautiful, and the next we see him a few hours later he's already had sex with her.
- Invisible Parents: Sebastian and Kathryn's parents are only vaguely mentioned as being out of the country.
- Ironic Echo: Annette meets Kathryn at the end, just before it emerges she's released the journal, thus destroying the latter and turns her "in times of trouble, I turn to Jesus" line on her. Kathryn doesn't realise a thing.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: The deleted scene in which Sebastian slaps Kathryn. Good God, did she deserve it.
- Kid-anova: Sebastian
- Kissing Cousins / Twincest: The twins in the second movie claim to be Kissing Cousins, but were played by Real Life twins.
- Ladykiller in Love: Sebastian
- Lame Rhyme Dodge: Said by Sebastian to an elderly woman who's hard of hearing.
Sebastian: Then I fucked your daughter.
Sebastian: I said, would you like some water?
- Large Ham:
- Ronald. "THE BLACK MAN IS GONE! THE BLACK MAN IS GONE!"
- Cecile's mother, played by Christine Baranski.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Kathryn's downfall comes about from people whom she screwed over. Her secrets are exposed by the journal of Sebastian, which was copied by Annette and distributed to the student body by Cecile.
- Though compared to her eighteenth-century counterpart, she gets off light, all things considered.
- Of course, the genius of Choderlos de Laclos's epistolary novel is that the events unfold by word of mouth from each of the characters. At the end of the story, the gossipy Madame de Volanges reports to Madame de Rosemonde that the Marquise de Merteuil contracted smallpox, which resulted in her losing an eye, and then ran away to Holland. The reader has to take her word for it, for whatever it's worth. The non-canon sequel, "A Factory of Cunning" by Philippa Stockley, tells a different story of Merteuil's fate, implying that she herself started the smallpox rumor to discourage her enemies from following her.
- Lean and Mean: In the form of the rail-like Kathryn.
- Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Annette and Kathryn.
- Light Is Not Good: Kathryn can't seem to stop telling people how fortunate she is to be a part of the Christian faith. She speaks as if Jesus Christ is her greatest ally and even wears a rosary as a necklace in public. But despite all that she is an insufferable elitist, and manipulative, spiteful and cruel, and stashes cocaine inside a hollowed-out crucifix at the end of her rosary.
- Love Redeems: Sebastian, sort of.
- Love Makes You Evil: On the other hand, the last shot of the movie, (Annette driving Sebastian's car, wearing Sebastian's sunglasses, and smirking like Sebastian did at the start of the movie) indicates that loving Sebastian may not have been all too good for Annette...
- The original ending was far less ambiguous; in it, Annette DOES become evil and, instead of publishing Sebastian's journal and expose Kathryn, uses the possibility of doing that to blackmail Kathryn into becoming her minion, who she plans on using to completely fuck around with the social order of her father's school.
- Manipulative Bastard: Sebastian
- Manipulative Bitch: Kathryn, IN SPADES
- Noodle Incident: Cecile's mother about Sebastian: "I can't believe they didn't expel him after what he did to the school nurse."
- Not Blood Siblings: Sebastian Valmont and Kathryn Merteul.
- Panty Shot: Cecile Caldwell (Selma Blair) sitting on the couch with her legs open, giving a view of white panties under her khaki short skirt.
- Pet the Dog: Sebastian deliberately goes for this when volunteering to help Annette work at the old people home, with humorous results.
- Popular Is Dumb: Subverted as Kathryn and Sebastian are in fact pretty intelligent.
- Practice Kiss: In a Les Yay example of this trope, this is proposed by Manipulative Bitch Kathryn to the innocent Cecile, who is worried about making a fool of herself when kissing her boyfriend for the first time. After the kiss Cecile is left breathless, and unconsciously leans forward for more as Kathryn pulls away.
- Prequel: Cruel Intentions 2....sort of (It was actually a pilot for a TV show that never happened.)
- Really Gets Around
- Redemption Equals Death and Death Equals Redemption: Sebastian dies saving the girl he loves from a car crash and in death he owes up to his and his sisters' crimes through his journal that Annette gets published, which exposes their cruel intentions.
- Revenge by Proxy: The whole reason Kathryn sets Sebastian onto Cecile is to get to Cecile's current boyfriend, who is Kathryn's ex.
- Rich Boredom: Supposedly, Kathryn somehow manages to balance a hard drug addiction and alcoholism and an exemplary academic resume (by blackmailing all her teachers perhaps?). Yet as far as we can tell, she and Sebastian seem to have nothing better to do than lounge around their palatial townhouse (or country estate if they feel like a change of scenery) while placing bets on how many people they can sleep with and lives they can ruin just to pass the time.
- Then again, the events take place before school begins.
- Secret Diary
- Setting Update: Of Dangerous Liaisons
- Shower Scene: Cruel Intentions 2 has a shower scene with a pair of twins making out in front of Sebastian, which, incidentally, is the only thing people remember about the film.
- Sinister Shades
- Smug Snake: Kathryn spirals into this toward the end. For much of the movie, she's very competant and successful at manipulation, but she really overreaches when she turns on Sebastian, whose assistance was a big contributor to her past success.
- Spit-Trail Kiss: The infamous lesbian kiss between Kathryn and Cecile was like this.
- Stepford Smiler: Katherine pretends to be an upstanding Junior League-type schoolgirl, when in reality she's an oversexed, scheming coke fiend who takes out her frustrations on her fellow female classmates by persuading them to sleep around and ruin their reputations as a result.
- Tears of Remorse: Kathryn at the end of the film, once she is exposed as the manipulative bitch she is and, upon reading about herself in Sebastian's published journal, she finally seems to grasp how messed up a person she is.
- That's open to interpretation. More likely, she just felt sorry for herself because she got caught. It's doubtful she was suddenly inspired to offer anyone a sincere apology for her actions.
- Teens Are Monsters: Especially in the prequel, and even more especially in the unaired episodes of the canceled television series that became the prequel. Almost every student at Manchester Prep turns out to be every bit as cruel as Kathryn and Sebastian.
- There Are No Adults: The few adults who do exist on rare occasions are clueless.
- The Three Faces of Eve: The three girls: Annette (wise and mature) as the wife, Kathryn (cold, manipulative Femme Fatale) as the seductress and Cecile (sheltered Na´ve Everygirl) as the child.
- Token Minority: Cecile's 'unsuitable' lover, Ronald. Kathryn was expecting Cecile's mother to be shocked at the idea of her daughter dating the "hired help". She's surprised when the mother is instead horrified because Ronald's black.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Again, Cecile, who gets more bitchy and slutty as the film goes on, just as Kathryn had planned.
- Tsundere: Sebastian pretty much accuses Annette of being this at one point ("Hot one minute, cold the next")
- Unholy Matrimony: Sebastian and Kathryn's parents. When she tells him that her mother suspects his "drunk, impotent" father of doing the maid he says excellent, while he calls her mother a "gold digging whore".
- Unsuspectingly Soused: Becomes something of a running gag across the series.
- Villainous Breakdown: Kathryn at the end.
- Sebastian originally had one when Kathryn refuses to sleep with him even after he dumps Annette, going into a tearful, psychotic tirade and even hitting Kathryn. However, it was cut out because it lessened the feeling that Sebastian could truly be redeemed. Interestingly, Kathryn still tells Ronald that Sebastian hit her, making it seem like a lie when it was originally meant to be true.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Kathryn, until the very end.
- Villain Protagonists
- Virginity Flag: Annette suddenly wears dark clothes in contrast to her former pastel wardrobe. Sebastian also wears a bright blue shirt to symbolize that he has fallen in love with her.
- Virginity Makes You Stupid: Subverted with Annette, played straight with Cecile.
- Where Da White Women At?: Ronald with Cecile and Kathryn.
- Wicked Cultured: Kathryn speaks Vietnamese, French and has sashimi as a midday snack. Sebastian rides, is an expert marksman and quite well read. He also drives a vintage Jaguar, which Kathryn covets.
- Woman Scorned
- Yandere: One way of looking at Kathryn. See the For the Evulz entry for the other interpretation.
- Your Cheating Heart: Cecile is in a relationship with Court Reynolds, who only shows up in a flashback, but falls for Ronald and ends up with him as well.