• U.S.

Cinema: Boy Beats Girl

3 minute read
Richard Schickel




When The Story of O was first published in the U.S. in 1966, there were those who insisted that it was something more than glossy s.-and-m. porn, that every little welt raised on its nameless heroine’s body had a meaning all its own. The novel, it was earnestly proposed, explored the paradox that only in slavery can one find perfect freedom. A flogging here, a gang shag there, these are a small price to pay for release from the endless naggings of free will.

What an excellent thing these philosophical overtones were. They provided a rationalization for devoting an evening to a dirty book and for discussing it openly in mixed company. They do pose a serious problem, however, for those who adapted the novel into the movie. The film makers are not aiming at the mostly male, hard-core market but at the bigger crowd of couples who think of themselves as sexually liberated. At heart these folks are romantics, and to them sex, even when expressed through the use of branding irons, must be beautiful. This, of course, runs counter to the spirit of the novel, which insists that O’s mistreatment—at the château where her lover takes her for initiation into the joy-through-pain cult—becomes pure (and purifying) agony.

Director Jaecklin treats O as if it were an idyl on the order of, say, A Man and a Woman. Fog filters are extensively employed; whenever a whip is raised, Jaecklin quickly averts his camera’s eye. If it is absolutely necessary to show the results of the disciplinary efforts expended on O, he sees to it that she is most prettily posed for the occasion. She recovers physically and psychologically from her sufferings with a speed that defies both medical science and common sense.

Obviously we are involved here with absurdity piled on absurdity. It is silly to criticize a movie for not being faithful to a perverse and distasteful novel. But it is equally ridiculous to spend time at a movie that insists—as its source really did not—that torture can be a lovely, romantic experience akin to a walk in the spring rain. Oddest of all is the success with which the film is luring viewers of both sexes. Women’s lib, where are you when we need you?

Richard Schickel

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