Venus in Fur opens like a horror film—more precisely, like a horror-comedy. The camera swoops slowly over rainswept streets toward a shuttered theater, as thunder rolls and a darkly glittering waltz plays. The music sets the mood for something like Beetlejuice or even Gremlins: The carnival’s in town, and it opens at midnight!
Roman Polanski’s adaptation of David Ives’s play about Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s perverse novel Venus in Furs manages to sustain this edgy, gleeful mood despite its layers of adaptation and influence. On one level it’s just an unhealthy confection, a movie-length warning: Be careful what you wish for, that classic horror maxim. Or, Be careful what you swoon for.
On a deeper level the movie is about perhaps the most important question: Is there anything outside the self? Is a genuine surrender of the will possible, or is everything just egoism in the end, since you’re still the one choosing to give or withhold yourself?