Synopsis by Jonathan Crow
Adapted from his own Royal Shakespeare Company production of Peter Weiss' play entitled The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, Peter Brook directs this fascinating look into revolution, power, and human frailty. During the 19th century, fashionable theatergoers would attend ostensibly therapeutic stage performances by mental asylum inmates. The film opens on July 19, 1809, with Monsieur Coubnier (Clifford Rose), the officious head of the Charenton asylum, introducing that night's show -- a drama about the assassination of French Revolutionary War firebrand Jean-Paul Marat, written by that institution's most notorious resident, the Marquis de Sade (Patrick Magee). The play begins conventionally enough , considering that the lead actress (Glenda Jackson) is a narcoleptic, the actor playing Marat (Ian Richardson) is a paranoiac, and another actor, a sex maniac with very pressing urges, is kept in chains. But the work soon evolves into a dialogue between Marat and De Sade. Though both men were early supporters of the Revolution, their ideas of the shape of the movement took very different courses. Espousing a form of proto-Marxism, Marat is at first presented as the sort of tyrannical idealist that became depressingly familiar in the 20th century, a la Lenin and Pol Pot. But then later, Marat seems haunted by the terror he has unleashed and unable to understand where he went wrong. De Sade, on the other hand, preached his own unusual brand of Nietzschean existentialism. Unlike Marat, he not only recognizes the inherent weakness of the human character, but he revels in it. Murder as an act of individual passion should be celebrated, De Sade at first argues; murder as an anonymous act of statecraft should be deplored. The individual is not given meaning though politics but through acts of spontaneous passion and desire. As the play progresses, the revolution depicted in the play soon develops into an outright revolution on the stage.
assassination, asylum [mental hospital], narcolepsy, paranoia, persecution, play [drama], revolution, sex-fiend, stage
High Artistic Quality, High Historical Importance