M. Butterfly (1993)

MButterfly1Based on a true story is, thankfully, something we’ve never seen from Cronenberg before M. Butterfly. Actually based on a play that’s based on a true story, M. Butterfly is disturbing in its own way (especially since it’s based in reality), but certainly not in the ways we’re used to coming from Cronenberg.

René Gallimard (Jeremy Irons) is a French diplomat. It’s China. It’s the 1960’s. It’s the Cultural Revolution. René starts off pretty low on the diplomatic totem pole, dealing with expense reports and other bureaucratic crap. He knows very little about Chinese culture. One of his first nights in Beijing, he is invited to a little entertainment, featuring a Chinese opera singer doing songs from Madama Butterfly. During the show he is intrigued by the singer’s performance and catches up with her after the show.

René offers Song Liling compliments, but Song quickly reproaches him for his imperialist ignorance: only a European would find Madama Butterfly, a story about a Japanese woman who commits suicide because her American husband has left her favoring his other, white family across the world, “beautiful.” René is taken aback by Song’s comments, but intrigued nonetheless, and is determined to learn more about the Chinese opera.

MButterfly2As hard as René studies, he never learned the one fact that would have saved him a lot of grief: Chinese opera singers are men. Not knowing this, he falls in love with Song, calling him his “butterfly.” Beliving Song when he asks René to respect his “modesty,” René has his way with him while Song’s wearing all his clothes. To add insult to injury, Song is also a Communist spy, leeching secrets from René.

How could René not know he’s been with a man? Well, René is clearly living in some fantasy world where he’s got an Asian woman under his European thumb, and it turns him on hardcore. His promotion at work has also given him a false sense of superiority. While the man thinks he’s on top of the world, he’s just playing the fool.

I really dug this movie. There are lots of reasons why, but I’m experiencing serious writer’s block. I’ll be back later.


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