Literature / Kiss of the Spider Woman

Kiss of the Spider Woman was originally a 1976 novel by gay Argentinian writer Manuel Puig. It was later adapted into an Academy Award winningnote  film in 1985 and a Tony award winningnote  musical in 1993. And a 1983 play. But that one isn't as well known.

Set in an unnamed Banana Republic, the story follows the imprisonment of Luis Molina (William Hurt in the film), a gay man who was caught corrupting a minor, and political prisoner Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia in the film), who is part of a leftist revolutionary group trying to overthrow the military dictatorship and is currently being tortured for information.

Molina passes the time by describing his favorite movies: the most prominent (and the only one featured in the film) being a romance story of star-crossed lovers... that also happens to be a Nazi propaganda film. Naturally, the Film Within a Film is draped with metaphors and symbolism relating to the two characters. It is later revealed that Molina was imprisoned with Valentin to spy on him in the hope that he will open up to Molina, using the film as a way of getting him to talk. Just one problem: Molina has fallen in love with Valentin. Cue moral dilemmas, political statements and gay angst.

Has nothing to do with any of the Spider-Woman characters published by Marvel Comics.

The story provides examples of:

  • All Love Is Unrequited: Valentin's girlfriend loves Valentin who loves Marta. Molina loves the waiter, and later Valentin, both of whom are straight. Subverted when Valentin agrees to sleep with Molina.
  • Bi the Way: Valentin reciprocates Molina's love for him.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Very embarrassingly happens to Valentin after eating poisoned food.
  • Downer Ending: Molina dies and Arregui continues to be tortured.
  • Genre Shift: After Molina is let out on good behavior the novel is told through a series of reports and documents.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Molina, though we know that he was a heel after he starts turning.
    • The protagonist of the Nazi propaganda film. Technically speaking.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The heroine of Molina's second film.
    • And Molina himself.
  • Last Name Basis: Molina is rarely called Luis. Valentin gets this too by everyone except Molina (see Meaningful Name).
  • Meaningful Name: Valentin = Valentine.
  • Narm Charm: Molina's second film is an in-universe example. Doubly so since it's a Nazi film.
  • Scary Black Man: The warden's assistant.
  • Show Within a Show: Molina's films.
  • Speech-Centric Work: Largely in dialogue.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: All we know is that we're in some kind of Latin America country in the midst of a civil war. Intentionally done so by the author to avoid the wrath of the Argentinian military dictatorship.
    • Mainly due to the movie being filmed in Brazil - the reports on Valentin and Molina in the book state quite clearly that both were arrested/sentenced in Buenos Aires.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Molina, though he comes off a little creepy.

Additionally, the film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Only one of Molina's five films from the novel makes it to the film.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Averted. Though like the novel, the location is never explicitly stated, the movie was filmed in Brazil. Details like a Brazilian flag and some Brazilian cities providing the backdrops make this explicit.
    • Although the characters having Spanish names mgiht hang a question mark over this.
    • And the novel states quite clearly that the story is taking place in Buenos Aires

And the musical provides examples of: