This month marks the Cruel Intentions 20th anniversary. To celebrate, the movie’s returning to theaters on Thursday, March 21st for one week only. It’s not exactly a thriller but it is is undeniably sexy. Director Roger Kumble’s cult classic tackled intense topics and rich girl Kathryn Merteuil is one of the cruelest femme fatales in film.
In honor of the Cruel Intentions 20th anniversary, let’s return to this classic 90’s character to see why her role still has staying power.
Kathryn exudes a confidence and sensuality that in 2019 would be celebrated to a certain extent. She asserts herself in a manner we don’t see depicted often, and she’s unapologetic for it.
Wooing her step brother, and seducing a young girl are all ways Kathryn uses sexuality to get what she wants. It’s an annoying cliche, but underneath the bravado she’s suffering from deeply low self esteem and worth. Unlike another femme fatale of the same name, this one, while clever, and manipulative does have a crack in her lining. Both are fearless in their pursuits. But Kathryn’s aggressive personality is an obvious shield for a deeply wounded human being.
Not that it’s an excuse to bribe your step brother with the prospect of sex. Or tell him to seduce and ruin another girl for revenge because that girl became the object of affection of your crush. She also orchestrates a bet whose main intention is manipulating and lying to an innocent collegian to win either sex, or a coveted car.
In New York City private schools in the late nineties, teens were maturing at a rapid rate. This writer should know, she went to one her entire life. And yet it feels tame compared to the Snap chatting, long finger nailed girls today. The ones who look like models instead of kids. Cruel Intentions depicts the world of the Manhattan Upper East side private school elite. They play by a different set of rules, which clearly still holds up, given the recent “Varsity Blues” news. Money buys anything, and sex is used as a tool to manipulate.
Kathryn is the best kind of screen vixen. Layered and deeply rooted in secrets. Though she’s not a murderess ( a trait many other femme fatales encompass), she does focus on hurting people and damaging lives. Her cold, calculating demeanor and sordid actions make us loathe her. Yet somehow, we love to do so.
Of course, much of Kathryn’s behavior would not fly today. In our current climate, the 1999 film feels close to controversial. Plus, a female ordering the seduction and deflowering of another female doesn’t exactly hold up. These days, twenty year old actions or words can hurt you but film shouldn’t always have the same accountability. That said, the Cruel Intentions 20th anniversary release does bring to light some archaic topics.
On the other hand, it’s still a cult classic. And what female Xennial will ever forget that Escalator scene with Ryan Phillipe.
Kathryn might not exactly represent the modern woman. But she still symbolizes a tiny piece of us buried deep away. The one who knows its best to be good, but occasionally dreams of being bad. It’s okay to enjoy that. Even if only for a moment for the film’s 20th birthday.