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Film / Death and the Maiden

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A 1994 film adaption of the 1990 play La muerte y la doncella written by Ariel Dorfman.

Directed by Roman Polański and starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, Death and the Maiden covers the events of one night, a decade after the revolution in an unnamed South American country. A lawyer brings a neighbor (Kingsley) home in a storm, where the housewife (Weaver) becomes convinced that the neighbor tortured her years ago. The trio deal with the accusations, old memories, and the conflict between revenge and the law over the course of the night.

Has nothing to do with the webcomic of the same name, or that one arc of Batman comics concerning Nyssa al-Ghul. Not to be confused with the artistic motif of the same name.

The movie contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Paulina
  • Affably Evil: When not in a position of power, Dr. Miranda is the friendliest man you'll ever meet. When serving as a Torture Technician, he was Faux Affably Evil, pretending to befriend and comfort the prisoners before assisting with their torture and raping them.
  • Bald of Evil: Dr. Miranda
  • Blatant Lies: Of course, the Doctor denies everything until the very end.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Poor, poor Paulina. Oh, and it's Truth in Television.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: One word: Desaparecidos.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Gerardo when he thinks that Paulina abandoned him. He begins drinking heavily and doesn't stop until he discovers otherwise.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Dr. Miranda is a family man who seems to be devoted to his children - he carries their pictures in his wallet, and when attending the musical performance he's very kind and tender with them.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Dr. Miranda liked to rape helpless prisoners but maintained his polite and cheerful demeanor thoroughout, which he reveals was to make the experience worse.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Paulina and her husband maintain a overtly friendly facade but have strong issues underneath as she's unwilling or unable to share her trauma until confronted with her former tormentor.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Paulina didn't report her boyfriend's name while tortured.
  • Kubrick Stare: Sigourney Weaver gives us few once she sees Doctor Miranda.
  • Hypocrite: Dr. Miranda expresses disgust at the regime that he served and its enablers, particularly those who tortured and murdered political dissidents. He himself was a torturer, so whether this is just a ruse or his way of projecting his own sense of guilt is left ambiguous.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Death and the Maiden" is a subject treated in art many times since the Renaissance, but the play also specifically references the poem by Matthias Claudius (original title: Der Tod und das Mädchen), which was scored by Franz Schubert.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Paulina sends Miranda's car off a cliff to fake his death.
  • Minimalist Cast: With the exception of the bookended scenes at the orchestra hall, the entire film consists of just the three main characters.
  • Mood Whiplash: The Doctor and Gerardo are drinking and telling jokes about women while Paulina is sending the doctor's car off a cliff.
  • Meaningful Echo: The Doctor always quotes Nietzsche. And it's when Paulina tells him she heard the Doctor often quoting Nietzsche that her husband starts to believe her.
  • Properly Paranoid: Oh, Paulina.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: While Paulina detailed the torture she endured to Gerardo, this was the first time she told him about the rape. Gerardo is clearly much more revolted by that than by the beatings, electrocutions, and other torture that Paulina went through.
  • Rape and Revenge: Deconstructed.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • In-universe. Dr. Miranda used to listen his favorite lied Death and the Maiden while he was raping her.
    • Gerardo and Miranda are fighting during a rock song.
  • Torture Technician: Dr. Miranda.
  • Villainous Breakdown. When Dr. Miranda finally confesses.
  • Wicked Cultured: Dr. Miranda loves classical music (especially Franz Schubert) and frequently quotes Friedrich Nietzsche.