Yesterday I watched The Libertine (2004), a film staring Johnny Depp, Samantha Morton, and John Malkovich…a wittily written stylistic period drama set in the 17th century, that follows the debaucherous a terribly talented Earl of Rochester as he summarily: drinks, insults, and fornicates his way to conquering the English stage, with the blessing of King Charles II, his famous benefactor.
I love the film.
I loved the film because it was raw. It was silly. It was erotic. It was ugly. Its writing and turn-of-phrase is simply brilliant.
I loved this film because it takes what many of us hold as 17th Century history…pious…prim and proper…and turns it on its toes! The Libertine elevates the art of the theatre, while simultaneously revealing a seedy and all-too-relatable underside. We see scenes replete with orgies and drunkiness…in the throws of great poverty and greed. We see the subtle talent of the stage muddled by the audacious and even ridiculous performances that The Earl writes and produces.
Notably, his most inappropriate (or perhaps all-too-appropriate) offering to the stage was Senior Dildo, mentioned in this week’s Sex Toy Tuesday entry (Click HERE for a peek at the provocative prose). The movie’s depiction of this performance is downright hilarious…picture women dancing across the stage with gigantic wooden dildos which are then thrown to the audience members!
Apart from the guilty-pleasures that The Libertine clearly offers…the film does ask us some important questions…by presenting us with the perilous fault of the human soul…the human heart…a vulnerable…and imperfect thing…capable of both great love, as well as great (self) destruction.
Allow me to be frank at the commencement. You will not like me. The gentlemen will be envious and the ladies will be repelled. You will not like me now and you will like me a good deal less as we go on. Ladies, an announcement: I am up for it, all the time. That is not a boast or an opinion, it is bone hard medical fact. I put it round you know. And you will watch me putting it round and sigh for it. Don’t. It is a deal of trouble for you and you are better off watching and drawing your conclusions from a distance than you would be if I got my tarse up your petticoats. Gentlemen. Do not despair, I am up for that as well. And the same warning applies. Still your cheesy erections till I have had my say. But later when you shag – and later you will shag, I shall expect it of you and I will know if you have let me down – I wish you to shag with my homuncular image rattling in your gonads. Feel how it was for me, how it is for me and ponder. ‘Was that shudder the same shudder he sensed? Did he know something more profound? Or is there some wall of wretchedness that we all batter with our heads at that shining, livelong moment. That is it. That is my prologue, nothing in rhyme, no protestations of modesty, you were not expecting that I hope. I am John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester and I do not want you to like me.