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"I write about the eternal truth that bind together all of mankind; the whole world over. We eat. We shit. We fuck. We kill. And we die."
Marquis de Sade

A 2000 period drama film, directed by Philip Kaufman and written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright, who adapted his own play of the same name. The film follows the (highly fictionalized) last years of the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush, in an Academy Award-nominated role), the notorious 19th-century French nobleman, author, philosopher, and libertine. The film is set at Charenton, a lunatic asylum where Sade has been sent for his continued publication of pornographic novels that double as nihilist philosophy tracts.

Charenton is run by the Abbé du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a rather progressive administrator who allows the Marquis to continue writing, on the theory that doing so will "purge" the evil from his mind. But unbeknownst to the Abbé, Madeleine LeClerc (Kate Winslet), a laundress at the asylum and a protégé of the Marquis, has been secretly smuggling the writings to the outside world, where they are published anonymously to great success. This turns out to be a mistake, as the Emperor Napoleon (Ron Cook), realizing who the author is, orders the renowned "alienist" Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to go to Charenton, where he is tasked with silencing the infamous any means necessary.


Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The real Abbé du Coulmier was about four feet tall and had severe scoliosis, and the real Marquis de Sade was extremely obese in his final years.
  • Artistic License – History: As pointed out by historians, the film is very, very different from how the events played out in real life.
  • Author Tract: The Marquis' novels. The sadomasochistic pornography illustrates his nihilistic worldview.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Dr. Royer-Collard lives happily ever after, using the Marquis' work and the inmates' slave labor to make himself wealthy.
  • Badass Longcoat: Abbé du Coulmiere wore a banging cassock for most of the film length.
  • Big "NO!": The Abbé gets one after the Marquis uses his crucifix to commit suicide before he can complete the Last Rites.
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  • Black-and-Gray Morality: When the Marquis de Sade is the sympathetic protagonist...
  • Black Comedy Rape: The Marquis certainly finds it funny, at least in fiction.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Well, it is early 19th century France.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: After Madeleine's murder, the grieving Abbé orders the Marquis' tongue cut out. Without an anaesthetic.
  • Compensating for Something: The Marquis jokes that this is why Dr. Royer-Collard has such a big house.
  • The Corrupter: The Marquis lives to drag others, especially the Abbé, down to his level. He succeeds, though it costs him his life.
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: After realizing that the Marquis was right all along, the Abbé is last seen continuing his writing from inside his own cell at the asylum.
  • Culture Police: The Marquis is locked in an asylum for writing what amounts to porn. Eventually, his continued publication angers Napoleon enough to send in Dr. Royer-Collard to "fix" him.
  • Depraved Bisexual: The Marquis flirts nonstop with the Abbé.
    The Marquis: I'm entertaining you now aren't I ?
    L'Abbé: Except I'm not a beautiful young prospect right for corruption.
    The Marquis: Don't be so sure.
  • Downer Ending: The film, based on the (highly fictionalized) last years of the Marquis de Sade, ends with an incredibly cynical Downer Ending. The innocent chambermaid Madeleine is raped and murdered, the Marquis has his tongue cut out without an anesthetic and later commits suicide by choking to death on a crucifix, the progressive and kindly Abbé du Coulmier goes mad and is locked away in his own asylum, and the wicked and hypocritical Dr. Royer-Collard lives happily ever after, using the asylum's inmates as slave labor to print the Marquis' books, from which he profits. The real Marquis de Sade would have approved.
  • Go Among Mad People: The Marquis isn't insane in any medical sense, just really, really, really kinky. Unfortunately, the authorities don't recognize a difference.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Abbé, when he realizes that de Sade was right.
  • Good Shepherd: The Abbé. It works out poorly for him, given the film's jaded viewpoint.
  • Hannibal Lecture: The Marquis doles them out like candy, especially to the Abbé.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The Abbé Courmier and the Marquis de Sade (insofar as he is portrayed as a victim of state censorship).
    • The real Abbé was pretty corrupt and in a relationship with de Sade (he needed little seducing), who got special priviledges while the rest of the inmates lived in squalid conditions and were treated pretty poorly (when it came to the plays, they were given minor roles-the big ones were given to professional actors). The Abbé basically ran Charenton like it was his own personal palace, and unlike the film was actually a committed Bonapartist-it was not the government that complained about how he ran the institute, but the French medical establishment, largely because he was grossly unqualified. And the terror baths were his idea, along with a lot of other cruel and outdated techniques. While he did encourage patients to express themselves, he wasn't really much interested in curing them.
    • The Marquis de Sade had already written and published Justine long before he went to Charenton (in fact, it was one of the books — the other being Juliette — that got him locked up; also, despite what the film implies, much of his infamous work was published before the Revolution, and wasn't inspired by it). He had been in and out of prison for years less for his writings than for a string of sexual offences, including abduction and rape. Most of the stuff he published in Charenton was both rather tame and not particularly good, being rejected by the publishers who saw it. He was kept under regular police surveillance (which the film does not show) and for good reason, and the only reason he was in Charleton in the first place was because he abused the hell out of the Insanity Defence to get a cushy sentence. He was a colossal Jerkass, morbidly obese at the time of the movie, and deeply unpopular with many of the other inmates for his special treatment. Kate Winslet's character was only 13-15 in Real Life when de Sade began his lengthy affair with her, and he had paranoid delusions that she was a spy. He paid her 3 francs for each liason and, in real life, she was not murdered by anyone.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Dr. Royer-Collard was a monarchist, not a Bonapartist, and as mentioned was not the man who introduced terror baths to Charenton, nor did he have anything to do with stopping the plays, as he arrived years after the French authorities closed them down (while the theatre at Charleton was not closed until a year after de Sade died). He was a Reasonable Authority Figure (certainly compared to the movie) and his only "mistreatment" of de Sade was trying to get him thrown out of Charleton on the - completely accurate - grounds that he was not mentally ill and only got himself institutionalized as a cushy alternative to prison; in addition, the real de Sade died peacefully in his sleep, and Collard had nothing to do with it.
    • Ironically, the Abbé also gets this, in the sense that the real de Sade never had his tongue cut out by anyone.
    • Napoleon also counts, in the sense that in Real Life his involvement in the whole affair was limited mainly to having de Sade arrested-after that, he didn't give a crap about the man and was happy to forget about him.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The Marquis believes this. The film shares his philosophy.
  • Hypocrite: Dr. Royer-Collard denounces the sexual amorality and disgustiness of Sade's writing, while raping his 16-year-old wife (of course, this would not be considered rape then). He also accuses the Abbé of exploiting the inmates to gain money, while he does the exact same thing at the end of the movie.
  • I Love the Dead: One of de Sade’s books concerns a man raping a corpse 6 decades his senior.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Averted by most inmates at Charenton, except Bouchon.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: The Marquis' cell at Charenton is outfitted like a gentleman's study. After he continues writing and publishing despite being ordered not to, the cell is slowly stripped of all furnishings, until it merely consists of bare walls and the floor.
  • Mad Artist: The Marquis affects this, when told that Madeleine has been killed by an inmate inspired from his prose, but he shows what's Beneath the Mask eventually.
  • Pyromaniac: One of the asylum's inmates, who triggers the film's climax when he sets Charenton on fire.
  • The Queen's Latin: Every character in the film is French, and every character in the film speaks with a British accent (even the ones played by American actors).
  • Rape as Drama: Dr. Royer-Collard rapes his teenage wife. Bouchon tries to rape Madeleine backstage at the Marquis' play.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Abbé. He gets a lot less reasonable as the movie goes on.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Stripped naked and tossed in a dank oubliette, the Marquis continues to write on the walls, using his own feces as an ink.
  • Sanity Slippage: The Abbé starts to get this, after Madeleine's death.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: How the Marquis continues to live in luxury, and even publish, even though he is institutionalized. Until Napoleon tires of his continued antics, that is.
  • Straight Edge Evil: Dr. Royer-Collard. By the end, however, he has gotten a mistress and begun making money by disseminating the Marquis' novels.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Dr. Royer-Collard orders Madeleine flogged for smuggling the Marquis' writing out of Charenton. The Abbé later flogs himself for ordering the Marquis' tongue cut out.
  • Three-Way Sex: Three of Madeleine's coworkers are shown having some while spreading gossip between them.
  • Torture Technician: One of Dr. Royer-Collard's footmen also mans his "treatment" devices.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. There is a therapist. Unfortunately, he's evil.