"Feminist Confusion About Men and Women"
What You Need To Know:
Despite the offensive subject, the original play does have clever dialogue. The movie actors perform well, but their movie comes across as too stagey, despite Director Polanski’s attempts. VENUS IN FUR does seem to at least offer a moral criticism against sadomasochism and turning women into objects. However, it does so from a humanist, feminist position rather than a biblical one. Ultimately, it’s all rather distasteful and politically superficial. VENUS IN FUR also has plenty of strong foul language.
(HHH, FeFeFe, B, LLL, VV, SSS, NN, A, D, MM) Very strong, but confused, humanist, feminist worldview regarding male sexual perversion, misogyny and lust, a slightly ironic reference to God with a lightly moral critique against lust and violence, but left undeveloped; about 43 obscenities (including many “f” words), three GD profanities, and one light profanity; strong references to sadomasochistic violence include man describes sadomasochistic whipping on his naked butt by his aunt while other women watch and laugh, and man tied to a post and left; extreme references to sadomasochism, mostly verbal, and woman pretends to be nude as she practices seduction scene with playwright; brief shots of upper female nudity and images of nude paintings; alcohol use; smoking; and, lust, deceit, humiliation, cheating, man lies to his fiancée over the phone, and a quote from Chapter 16 of the “Book of Judith,” an apocryphal text, about the Lord delivering an evil man into the hands of a woman.
VENUS IN FUR by acclaimed director Roman Polanski is a stagy adaptation of a play about an infamous book written by an Austrian writer, journalist and socialist activist in the late 1800s. The author’s name, Sacher-Masoch, became deliberately synonymous with the term “masochist” as invented by a famous Austrian psychologist named Krafft-Ebing. The play is a play within a play and concerns a masochistic relationship between an actress and a writer. The original book apparently is based on the Austrian writer’s own perverse relationship with a baroness.
The movie itself opens with a disheveled woman, Vanda, coming to audition for a theatrical version of the Austrian writer’s infamous book. She’s late, however, and the auditions have been over for more than an hour. The playwright, Thomas, is still working, however. Vanda cleverly cajoles Thomas into letting her audition, even though he dislikes her slovenly manner.
When she begins performing the opening scene, with him feeding her the lines of the man in the play, she shows herself to be an intelligent, talented actress. Thomas begins to feel attracted to this woman. Vanda and Thomas continue to perform the play, wherein the man asks the woman if he could be her servile valet and masochistic sex slave. Eventually, the woman turns the tables on both the man and Thomas, the playwright. At one point, Vanda tells Thomas that she’s really a detective paid to test him by his fiancée, but the movie implies that her confession may be a lie.
Whatever the truth, it becomes clear by the end that the movie becomes a feminist critique of all male sexuality and all male attitudes toward women, not just a critique of sadomasochism. In that light, it’s interesting to note that the ending of the original book reportedly contains a plea for equality between men and women. There is no such plea in this movie, however.
The original play by David Ives was nominated for several Tony Awards in 2011. Admittedly, it does have a lot of clever dialogue for two actors talented enough to strut their stuff. However, the movie comes across as very stagey, even though director Polanski has added some interesting set design and lighting flourishes.
Although there are no explicit physical scenes between the two actors in the movie, the whole theme of the story is about sadomasochism. In addition to this, the movie contains a lot of sensual, erotic tension between the two performers. That’s part of the arc of the story, where the playwright gradually becomes obsessed with the actress as she auditions. Ultimately, the playwright is shown to be just as perverse as the masochistic author of the original book on which the play within the play is based.
VENUS IN FUR does seem to at least offer a moral criticism against sadomasochism and turning women into objects. However, it does so from a humanist, feminist position rather than a biblical one. There’s a little bit of humanist psychobabble and artsy conceit in this perspective, perhaps even in a pseudo-intellectual way. VENUS IN FUR also has plenty of strong foul language. In the final analysis, it’s all rather distasteful and politically superficial, no matter how much clever dialogue and theatrical nuance there might be. Most moviegoers, but especially media-wise moviegoers, will want to avoid VENUS IN FUR.
Instead of approaching the subject of human sexuality and lust from a humanist, feminist perspective, people should follow what the Bible says about these subjects. The play and the movie do contain a reference to the story in the apocryphal Book of Judith about a Jewish woman ingratiating herself with a pagan kind in order to chop off his head. However, this is meant partly in an ironic way, rather than to develop some elaborate biblical allegory honoring God.