Cruel Intentions, written and directed by Roger Kumble, is a modern-day teen update of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. The story is set in Manhattan's late twentieth-century high society. Picking up on the teen-picture concept, Kumble transforms Laclos' eighteenth-century French aristocrats into high school kids.

In this modern adaptation Kathryn Merteuil and Sebastian Valmont have no reason to write letters to each other since they live in the same house and can talk freely; Kathryn's exposition is secured by the presence of a journal in which Sebastian keeps a detailed account of their vicious games. The original work, the novel by Laclos, consists of a series of letters exchanged among the major characters.

Contrary to Laclos' book, Kumble allows himself an occasional liberty when he has Kathryn kiss Cécile. The director picks up on Kathryn's subtle but very clear flirtation with homosexuality in her encounters with Cécile, although Kumble removes all traces of real attraction to Cécile to highlight Kathryn's manipulation and the downfall of the younger girl.

In the movie, Kathryn and Sebastian, who became step-siblings when his father wed her mother, are left to their own evil devices during the summer vacation while their parents are busy touring the world. The two youngsters try to put some spice into their spoiled and boring lives by playing with others' feelings and reputations.

The game (or bet) begins when Kathryn, who always behaves like a "lady," wants revenge on a boyfriend who dumped her. She convinces Sebastian, who has a reputation of being a seducer, to corrupt the virginal Cécile, who is the main interest of the boyfriend who chose Cécile instead of Kathryn.

The other focus of the game lies in Sebastian's seduction of the good girl Annette, daughter of the headmaster of the school all these young people attend. If he fails, Kathryn gets his precious vintage convertible; if he wins he gets Kathryn's body.

Turning the main character of the novel, Valmont and Merteuil, into step-siblings justifies and facilitates the close link that exists between them, and it adds an incestuous tone that reinforces the film's decadent ambience while doing justice to Laclos' provocative spirit in his work.

Julio A. Rosario, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Library

Cruel Intentions. Dir. Roger Kumble. Perf. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Selma Blair. DVD. Columbia Pictures, 1999.

Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) persuades Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) to take revenge on her last boyfriend who dropped her for Cécile Caldwell (Selma Blair).

"For the rest, the heroine of this new romance [the Marquise de Merteuil is referring to Cécile] deserves your fullest attention. She is really pretty: only fifteen years of age, a rose-bud. Gauche, of course, to a degree, and quite without style, but you men are not discouraged by that. What is more, a certain languor in her looks that really promises well. Add to these recommendations the consideration that it is I who make them, and you have only to thank me and obey." (Letter 2: The Marquise de Merteuil to the Vicomte de Valmont at the Château de --).

Choderlos de Laclos. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Trans. P.W.L. Stone, London: Penguin Books, 1961. 26. 775.

Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) tells Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) that after seducing Cécile (Selma Blair) he can have her body.

"As soon as you have seduced your Fair Devotee [Cécile], as soon as you can furnish me with proof that you have done so, come to me and I shall be yours [The Marquise de Merteuil wagers her body]. Remember, however, that in important affairs of this kind, proof, to be valid, must be in writing." (Letter 20: The Marquise de Merteuil to the Vicomte de Valmont).

Choderlos de Laclos. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Trans. P.W.L. Stone, London: Penguin Books, 1961. 55.

Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) does not fulfill her promise to Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe). Instead Kathryn tells Sebastian that his last task is to seduce the headmaster's daughter (Reese Witherspoon), in order for him to possess her body.

"I must fly from you. I must! [Vicomte de Valmont says to the other woman he is going to seduce, Madame Annette de Tourvel]." "No!" she cried. . . ." "And with that last word she threw herself, or rather fell, into my arms in a faint. Since I was still suspicious of so easy a success, I feigned extreme alarm. But even as I expressed it, I took her, or carried her, towards the place previously appointed for the field of glory. In fact she did not return to herself until after she had submitted and surrendered to her happy conqueror." (Letter 125: The Vicomte de Valmont to the Marquise Merteuil).

Choderlos de Laclos. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Trans. P.W.L. Stone, London: Penguin Books, 1961. 302.


Cook, Rita. "Adaptive Inventions: An Interview with Roger Kumble." Creative Screenwriting 6.2 (1999): 35-37.

Jays, David. "Cruel Intentions." Sight and Sound Feb. 2001: 24-27.

Laclos, Choderlos de. Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Trans. P.W.L. Stone. England: Penguin Books, 1961.

Le Gagne, Alexa. "The Acting Female Gazed with Cruel Intention." West Virginia University Philological Papers 48 (2001-2002): 140-147.

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