Les Enfants Terribles: The Mythos of the Toxic Partnership

Feb 26, 2019

*some spoilers
Buy tickets here: https://ticketomaha.com/Productions/enfants-terribles

Les Enfants Terribles by Philip Glass , based upon the novel of the same name, explores the psychological isolation enforced by two children and the ways in which they challenge one another in boredom. They seek to further their reality together, often at the expense of others. Although the relationship between main characters Paul and Elisabeth in Les Enfants Terribles seems particularly unsavory given its borderline incestuous nature, there is an abundance of obsessive and codependent narratives between main characters of the past, and current times, still proposed in literature and film today, such as the play Macbeth, the film Cruel Intentions, and the novel/film Gone Girl.

In the realm of theatre, prolific playwright Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a surprising example, for we often ignore the intricacies of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s connection in light of their strain. They are insular in their single-minded focus to escape their fate as they are together toyed with by a prophecy. However, locked in machinations of ambition and manipulation, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth demonstrate a descent into madness and eventual tragedy within their relationship. While the goal of their games are mutual, this does not preclude a spiraling which is not dissimilar to that of the siblings in Les Enfants Terribles, Cruel Intentions and Gone Girl; all of these relationships are seemingly a balanced ecosystem, however, the characters whose lives had once been intertwined eventually see their connection devolve quickly.

Cruel Intentions (1999) is a romantic drama starring a step brother (Sebastian) and sister (Kathryn) left to their own devices in New York City. They involve themselves in games and wagers using the people around them as pawns. As in both Macbeth and Les Enfants Terribles, one half of the duo begins to rail against codependency, changing the rules of their game. With the undercurrent of sexual tension and seduction between the main character and their victims in this story, making it perhaps the most similar to Les Enfants Terribles, the fatal end after Sebastian’s betrayal should not be surprising.

Gone Girl the film, based on a thriller novel written by Gillian Flynn, differs from the previous narratives in that it begins with the disappearance and suspected murder of the wife, Amy, and the subsequent condemnation of the husband, Nick. It is a story that works backwards through the dark intricacies of the marriage and their obsession with one another. They push one another to their breaking point during their marriage and the regression becomes a chilling game of cat and mouse instigated by Amy. In spite of its emotional and physically abusive nature, the enormously high stakes that both Nick and Amy face during the investigation, and the ugliness revealed within both of them, in the end their noxious partnership stands.

Why do we watch these insular and twisted relationships with such rapt attention when we are disgusted by them? There is a certain simplicity in the motives of the characters: Within Macbeth, ambition. For the siblings of Cruel Intentions, challenging one another by asserting dominance, sexually or otherwise, over other characters. In Gone Girl, Amy and Nick hope to keep up a charade of marital normalcy while systematically and compulsively lying in order to further their own goals. Once their goals diverge, however, the partnership implodes for a short time.

Les Enfants Terribles amplifies and streamlines these character traits even further as much of it takes place in one setting: a room. The insularity of the relationship is reflected by the insularity of space, interpersonal made external. This is a powerful choice that will make for a visceral production. These characters endure because of these clear goals, and we continue to consume these stories because they fascinate. In spite of the complications that arise due to the weaknesses of humanity, the mythos of the toxic partnership remains relatively clear.

By Lillian Snortland
Opera Omaha Weitz Fellow

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