Kiss of the Spider Woman was originally a 1976 novel by gay Argentinian writer Manuel Puig. It was later adapted into a film in 1985 and a musical in 1993. And a 1983 play. But that one isn't as well known.
Set in a Banana Republic (Argentina in the novel and musical, Brazil in the film), the story follows the imprisonment of Luis Molina (William Hurt in the film), a trans woman who was caught corrupting a minor, and political prisoner Valentin Arregui (Raúl Juliá 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.
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.
- Bring My Brown Pants: Very embarrassingly happens to Valentin after eating poisoned food.
- Bury Your Gays: The trans woman protagonist demonstrates her newfound bravery by accepting a suicide mission to pass a message to political revolutionaries. The same thing occurs in the movie, with the protagonist becoming a homosexual cis man.
- 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.
- 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.
Additionally, the film provides examples of:
- Adaptational Nationality: The film relocates the story from Argentina to Brazil.
- Adaptational Sexuality: Molina is gay here, not straight.
- Adaptation Distillation: Only one of Molina's five films from the novel makes it to the film.
- Gender Flip: Molina was a transgender woman in the book, but is a cisgender man now.
- Translation Convention: All dialogue is in English while text and signage remains in untranslated Portuguese. This extends to the "film-within-a-film" segments, where all the French and German characters speak English.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Both William Hurt and Raúl Juliá use their normal accents.
And the musical provides examples of:
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The musical takes even more liberties than the film.