DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is Roman Polanski's latest film and it
clearly has his stamp on it. I find Polanski's movies always to be
smartly written and directed. He assumes that he has an audience who
goes to the movies with their thinking caps on, and his movies always
surprise you. Sometimes the surprises come as unexpected twists in the
plot (as in CHINATOWN or FRANTIC) and at other time in how harsh and
intense the way the characters are drawn (as in BITTER MOON). Finally,
his movies can be so heavy that they are hard to watch. If you are
prone to nightmares, his movies provide fertile ground. DEATH AND THE
MAIDEN is all of the above.
The movie is set in a South American country, assumed to be Chile,
where a democratic regime has taken over from a brutal dictatorship.
The new Minister of Justice is played by Stuart Wilson. His wife,
played by Sigourney Weaver, was brutally and repeated tortured and
raped by the old regime when she was a student activist. The other
actor in this three-person play is Ben Kingsley. He is a doctor, and
he may or may not have been Weaver's chief torturer. The movie, made
from a play, is about the mystery of whether Kingsley was the torturer
The title DEATH AND THE MAIDEN comes from the name of a Schubert
Quartet, and it plays a central thread that runs through the entire
show. The opening scene is in a concert hall where this quartet is
being performed. The camera cuts from the tension of the violin
strings to the tension in Weaver's face and hands. From there we skip
to the isolated house on a peninsula where Weaver and her husband live
and where 99% of this claustrophobic movie takes place.
Kingsley brings Wilson home in a huge storm where they have lost
power and phone. Soon Weaver becoming increasingly agitated decides
that Kingsley was her torturer. (Having recently spent over two days
at home in the mountains with no power or phone, with the only road out
blocked and with several huge holes blown in our roof, I can speak from
some authority in the isolation and irritation a situation like this
For the rest of the movie you are not sure if she is going to kill
him, torture him or what, but rest assured that it is a long night of
terror for the three leads and for the audience. The well-written
script by Rafeal Yglesuas and Ariel Dorfman takes many twists. Have
yourself some fun and try to guess the ending. You will find there are
many possibilities from which to choose.
Weaver is an incredible actor who can play intense roles as in
ALIENS and comedic roles as in WORKING GIRL. She is excellent here as
one of the angriest and bitterest women you will ever meet. She is
angry at life and everyone in it including her husband. You wonder
early on in the show why he would stay with someone so angry and mean,
but as the plot develops you find out the reasons he puts up with this
Kingsley has the ambiguous and hence harder part. Sometimes you
think he is a victim and other times you are convinced he is an animal.
A fascinating piece of acting. Wilson on the other hand is weak and
gives a pedestrian performance. He was rarely believable.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes