Perverse, indelicate writing coupled with freedom of self-expression is at the center of Quills. Directed by Phillip Kaufman, Quills is a clean taste of what an 18th Century French insane asylum was like. The debauched Marquis de Sade, played by Geoffrey Rush, is sentenced to the asylum for depraved acts that are not noted in the film. Read any of the Marquis’ writings and you’ll know what I mean. In Quills, he seduces a laundry girl (Kate Winslet) into smuggling out his controversial writing, which continues to make it into publication. When asylum director (Joaquin Phoenix) finds out the Marquis’ work is being published, he notifies emperor Napoleon who posts a new case manager (Michael Caine) to the Marquis, thus, removing his ability to write.
The film makes no qualms about attempting to elicit some sympathy for the Marquis while portraying his right of expression being removed. The Marquis’ writings were at odds with the royalty and commoner in pre-revolution France. The film’s’s director chose not to touch on any portions of the Marquis’ writing that resulted in his institutionalization; including them would have given the film an NC-17 rating. It’s an entertaining film about self-expression with a focus on manipulation and sexuality as the main character’s means of self-realization.