Writer of O (Écrivain d’O)
Release Date: 16 September 2004 (Toronto International Film Festival – Canada)
In 1954 the scandalous and influential novel Histoire d’O was published in France. Inspired by the works of the Marquis De Sade and others that explored “deviant” sexuality, the book sparked controversy and possibly a revolution. It was the story of a woman simply named “O” who is taken by her lover René on a journey of sexual exploration that includes sadism, being given to groups of men, and virtual slavery.
Although the book was published in more open-minded France in the 50s, it wouldn’t appear in the UK and USA for quite a few years later. It was written by an influential literary editor who called herself by the pen name of Pauline Réage to protect herself from the scandal that she knew would come from this book. There followed years of speculation about the true identity of the woman who wrote the book – and in fact, many doubted that a woman could write such a book. In 1994, “Pauline Réage” revealed that she was actually Dominique Aury, although that is also a pen name. Her real name was Anne Cécile Desclos. People who don’t use their real name. I just. I can’t even.
I’ll get into the plot of the novel in the next review, but even though I’m a first amendment/freedom of choice kind of guy it’s hard for me to celebrate this book and it’s “landmark” publication because I also like to think of myself as a feminist and this is a book where – from what I’ve seen and heard (I haven’t read it, just these movies) – a young woman is handed around by several horny, creepy men as property. She has a choice in this, but still. Ick. Just entirely too much ick for me.
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
As a documentary about a subject that I’m conflicted about, Writer of O kept my interest. The filmmaker seems conflicted too, she calls herself “a great admirer” but at one point she intercuts scenes of a naked and blindfolded O with shots of pigs being slaughtered and meat on the grill.
Story of O (Histoire d’O)
AKA The Story of O
Language: English – Dubbed 😦
Release Date: 28 August 1975 (France)
There have been a few film adaptations of Story of O, and many more movies that have been inspired by it, but this one from 1975 seems to be the most faithful to the book. Because of my reactions to the story, I have to dispense with my usual restraint about spoilers and talk about plot points more than I usually do. So consider yourself warned.
O is brought by her creepy lover René to a creepy chateau where she is told to obey the men there. The movie makes the point that she willingly agrees to this because she loves René. She is told not to look the (creepy) men there in the eyes or speak unless spoken to. The “men” at the chateau make a point of saying that O cannot enjoy being whipped, even if she happens to, “We have to get tears out of her.”
An exact quote from the screenplay: “The more he [René] gave her to others the dearer she became to him. The fact that he could meant she truly belonged to him.”
Is it just me?
At this point I should point out that O is played by Corinne Cléry, a lovely actress who in a couple years would become a Bond Girl. She has a beautiful body and every inch is on display. And so are those of the other women at the chateau. They wear an outfit that exposes their breasts and leaves their vaginas and butts easily accessible to be “used” by any of the creepy men at any time.
So with all this female flesh constantly ready, are the men similarly attired? Do the creepy European men walk around naked with their Europeaness standing at attention? Um…that would be no. They do not. Even the sex that is shown is soft core and no male genitalia is shown. That is the anti-woman tone of the movie and (I suspect) the book.
So after her “training” is over, O goes back to her normal life, which in this movie is as a 70s era fashion photographer. After a while, René tells her that he is going to give her permanently to a man who he apparently owes some kind of debt to: His half-brother Stephen, whom she is told to address as “Sir Stephen.”
Around this time, O begins to groom another woman, one of her models named Jacqueline, for the same cruel tutelage she has received. The end result is that she will be given to René as her replacement.
Sir Stephen decides that O needs some more finishing/whipping/like you do. He sends her to another chateau where, as the ultimate mark of his ownership of her, her ass is branded with an “SH” (apparently his initials).
One of the last scenes of the movie has SH bringing his prize to a party in her honor. That is if you consider it an honor to be surrounded by people in evening clothes while you are buck naked except for a feathered mask. In one of the most telling sentences in the screenplay, the narrator says that O chose a bird of prey mask because she has now been “trained to retrieve her victim and bring it to her master.”
The Misplaced Boy MST3K Scale:
The very last scene in the movie almost redeems the whole thing. O and Sir Stephen are cuddling. She is fully clothed for a change. He, of course, always is. She is smoking a cigarette, using a cigarette holder that SH gave her. O asks SH if he would be willing to undergo punishment for her. In his very creepy way he says, “I suppose so,” and she suddenly burns his hand with the hot tip of the cigarette holder, leaving a permanent “O” mark.
Like I said, it almost redeems the movie…and it will keep it from getting my equivalent of a zero (Dr. Forrester), but from what I understand, there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding scene in the book. After the “bird of prey” scene, SH loses interest in O. Seriously, once a chick has your initials branded on her ass what else can you do with her amirite? In the ultimate, almost religious, act of her sacrifice O asks SH for his permission to kill herself…which he, of course, creepily grants.
If you’re into S&M and other things, as long as both parties are willing, I don’t judge you. But all the male dominated bullshittery that’s on display in these two movies makes me practically sick to my stomach. And the fact that it was all dreamed up by a woman makes me want to throw up.
But she might enjoy that.
Closing Love Theme
It’s one of my favorite Stones songs, but I have to admit that it’s…you know. Creepy.
A MISPLACED BOY WILL RETURN