Death and the Maiden
In an isolated house, a woman (Weaver) edgily awaits someone. It's night, he's late, and a storm is coming. After hearing radio news, she eats dinner angrily, not finishing it. The man arrives in a stranger's car; she evades the two men by slipping into bed and feigning sleep. Her husband, Gerardo Escobar (Wilson), and kindly Dr. Roberto Miranda (Kingsley) talk and drink. Meanwhile, Mrs. E. sneaks out, gets into the stranger's car, and drives away.
With his car gone, the visitor is stranded and shaken. To calm down, he and his host drink more, sharing confidences, and grow friendly. The visitor will sleep on the couch; alone, he seems sober and thoughtful. Mrs. E. sneaks into her living room; surprising the doctor, asleep on the couch, she ties him up. Some years back, as a political prisoner, she was blindfolded and brutally raped, but never saw the man. But she knows his voice, his phrases ("itty bitty"), and his scent. She believes the doctor is the man.
Now Mrs. Escobar "tries" the doctor, while her husband goes back and forth about whom he believes. Miranda says he's innocent, but seems smart enough to talk his way free. The setting could be any country where force and threats replace law and justice. What if the doctor is the abuser? If so, has he changed? Was he a victim of brutality, forced to torture others? By "trying" him, has Mrs. E. sunk to his level? Can she forgive him? Her torturer wasn't wholly cruel, but offered tidbits of warped kindness; they both suffered in a corrupt society whose captors and prisoners alike endured dismal torture.
Kingsley gives the doctor's monologue brilliantly; we must decide how to punish evil. If a man kills, must he be killed? The movie's questions rivet us. Even so, the powerless doctor is so smart and daunting that we admire his struggle. Weaver recalls events with so much feeling that we're carried back to them. Wilson's convincing as the husband who wants the genuine truth and awful facts. But his wife and the man in the chair know that only they can grasp what the torturer and the tortured share. Only by changing places can they correct it, if, of course, Mrs. Esobar has the right man.
Roman Polanski, based on the play by Ariel Dorfman
Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Stuart Wilson
Torture of political prisoners; revenge; Polanski; Sigourney
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