More Evidence of Impending Pedophilia . . .

Schools are about to start distributing condoms to twelve-year-olds.  There’s a way for parents to opt out–but, of course, that doesn’t help parents who aren’t informed about the new policy.

Supporters of the policy probably say that the condoms are meant only for children having sex with each other, not with adults.  But, under the liberal worldview, what’s the moral difference between the two situations?

Movie Review: Valmont

*This review contains major spoilers of both the book and movie.*

Even though I wouldn’t call it a great book, it’s no mystery why the eighteenth-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liasions) remains popular. It’s a prurient tale of seduction and intrigue–but since it ends unhappily, the reader can convince himself that he read it for didactic purposes (either to see the promiscuous punished, as its eighteenth-century readers doubtless wanted, or to see the French aristocrats punished, as contemporary readers probably want). Best of all, its film adaptions allow directors to dress their actors in period costumes of corsets and breeches, which transform even the most trifling of films into Serious Oscar Bait. (A few film adaptions–most egregiously, Cruel Intentions–set the story in modern times, but the story resists successful modernization because it hinges on the assumption that seducing a virgin is really bad and will ruin her life, which nobody believes nowadays).

The novel is so popular that in the 1980s, not one but two film adaptations were released–Dangerous Liasions (1988), directed by Stephen Frears, and Valmont (1989), directed by Milos Forman. Dangerous Liasions was the one that successfully sold itself as Serious Oscar Bait, while Valmont languished under mediocre reviews and less-impressive box office earnings.

There are a few reasons why Valmont may have garnered less attention than Dangerous Liasions. It has its flaws–for instance, both Valmont’s love for Madame de Tourvel, and the nature of his relationship with Madame de Merteuil, remain ambiguous, thus leaving many of his actions unexplained. (In Dangerous Liasions, he accepts a duel because he has lost the love of his life, Madame de Tourvel, and therefore has no reason to live. In Valmont, the viewer is given little reason for why Valmont courts death in a senseless duel, since his love for Madame de Tourvel is never openly stated).

Despite its faults, I think Valmont has been unfairly overlooked. Its cast is superior to that of Dangerous Liasions. Colin Firth and Annette Benning, playing Valmont and Madame de Merteuil, are pleasantly seductive, unlike the grim and less attractive John Malkovich and Glenn Close. Cecile and Danceny are convincing as naive youths. The locations and soundtrack are also superb.

The ending is where Valmont truly exceeds Dangerous Liasions. Where Dangerous Liasions is merely a faithful adaptation of a melodrama, Valmont carries the novel’s themes to a higher level of sophistication by altering its events. Dangerous Liasions (both the book and the movie) ends with each character publicly punished for his misdeeds: Valmont dies; Madame de Tourvel dies; Cecile’s pregnancy causes her fiance to reject her; Madame de Merteuil’s evil ways are unmasked. In Valmont, however, the punishments are mostly internal (except for Valmont’s, who still dies). Cecile marries a fiance she doesn’t love, with the intention of cuckolding him with many men. Danceny, once sincerely in love with Cecile, now indifferently cavorts with other women. Madame de Tourvel reconciles with a husband she no longer loves. Madame de Merteuil has succeeded in her revenge, but her life still lacks genuine love or fulfillment. Instead of punishing its characters through deus ex machina devices such as disease, the movie shows how their corruption coarsens them, leaving them jaded and bored. Perhaps, then, Valmont was less popular because it showed the consequences of promiscuity to be more horrifying–and believable–than did Dangerous Liasions.

 

But Cookie Cutter Weddings Taste So Good

I got married fairly recently (baby was born 9 months after the wedding, and she’s not yet a year old) so the wedding-planning experience is still fresh in my mind. One irksome tendency among women posting on message boards like The Knot is the denigration of traditional weddings as “cookie cutter weddings.” If you didn’t choose a unique “theme” for your wedding (like “boats” or “King Kong”), if you held it in a normal venue (i.e., a church), if you wore a white dress from David’s Bridal, then the implication is that you accepted empty forms instead of expressing your own authentic individuality. Worst of all are the couples who don’t write their own vows; their very affections have been defined for them by others.

But I think writing your own vows is, in many cases, less sincere than using the ones from the Book of Common Prayer (though there are circumstances in which writing your own may be warranted: for instance, if it is expected in your culture, or if you are a non-Christian for whom the traditional vows would be dishonest). During emotionally powerful experiences, it is common for people to lament the indequacy of language: “words fail me,” “I cannot express how much . . . ” It is for moments like this that liturgy and ritual are given to us. Ritual becomes a kind of “structured silence” in which our own mental chatter ceases, instead allowing a greater power to speak through us. To refuse ritual, to insist that you are still perfectly articulate and self-sufficient, is to deny the sublimity of the experience and thus to be less “true” to what is really going on.

Of course, the institution of marriage is not defined by the individual wills of those who enter it. That’s one reason to retain the traditional vows. But I also think that the inner experience of love demands rituals commensurate with its true power.