Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fascist Monsters from the Id: Marat/Sade and Trump

Over at Balloon Juice, front-pager Doug! asked about the French Revolution and if there might be a model for revolution now. I would have to say it was a very bad one, and then someone brought up the Judy Collins medley of songs from Marat/Sade, which I'd just finally seen on film. That led me to write this short review of the film and its applicability to our current situation.

The 1962 Peter Weiss play, The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, usually called Marat/Sade in self-defense, or perhaps just to save column inches, is worth watching, though it is not an easy watch.

It is exactly what the title says it is. The Marquis de Sade really did write plays when confined at Charenton, and he really did have inmates perform them. He did not write “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat,” but he very well could have. There’s a lot there, and a lot of it bears on our current situation. In the filmed play-within-a-play, the Marquis (Patrick McNee) debates Marat (Ian Richardson), a nihilistic libertarian arguing with one of the great socialist rhetoricians, as the very simple plot tells the story of Marat’s rise to prominence and assassination by Charlotte Corday, portrayed by a narcoleptic inmate (Glenda Jackson.) In the background, the insane cast of inmates act atrociously and, ultimately, revolt. The lyrics of Adrian Mitchell’s “The People’s Reaction” might have been written as expression of the motivations of Trump supporters. There is a waterboarding scene (it was psychotherapy once, though I doubt it was used at Charenton during the Marquis’s time; the actual director of Charenton, who gets short shrift in Marat/Sade, disliked torture.) There is even – yes! – a compulsive rapist.

The play was enormously influential both as social commentary and as theater, shaping the art in the second half of the 20th century as well as the careers of great actors. Weiss, who I judge one of the great artists of the 20th century, nailed our current situation. I think there is a Freudian subtext with the Marquis as ego (self), Marat as superego (conscience), and the inmate cast as id. Freudianism has not worn well, but Marat/Sade, connecting sexuality and political revolution, has. It is also about Naziism; Weiss's family were refugees from the Nazis.

And so, here we are, dealing with fascist monsters from the id.

1 comment:

JACKIESUE said...

I liken it to the nightmare before christmas