Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche, Miranda Richardson

Directed by Louis Malle
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
January 31, 1993

Josephine Hart's First Novel, Damage – a sexual confessional told in the voice of a British politician in thrall to his son's fiancée – stirred up a literary fuss in 1991. What Time praised as Hart's "fastidious language," Newsweek. slagged as "heavy breathing." Expect the same love-hate reaction to this faithful film version, beautifully directed by Louis Malle from a script by David Hare (Plenty). No harm should come from the NC-17 rating ruckus. It's just another "yikes, a penis!" overreaction from the moral watchdogs.

There is a problem: Other people's uncontrollable passions make many Americans giggle. A Woody Allen, Amy Fisher or Sol Wachtler supply exploitable agonies for parodies, thrillers, tabloids and talk shows. But serious attention is rarely paid. Malle may change things. The gifted French filmmaker dealt compassionately with adultery (The Lovers), incest (Murmur of the Heart) and child prostitution (Pretty Baby). In Damage, he puts a touchingly human face on sexual obsession.

Jeremy Irons plays Stephen Fleming, a doctor turned member of Parliament. His wife, Ingrid (Miranda Richardson), and her influential father, Edward (Ian Bannen), are pushing him toward high office. He's the ideal candidate – a well-meaning drone untouched by scandal or emotion.

That is until he meets Anna Barton Juliette Binoche), the mistress of his journalist son, Martyn (Rupert Graves). Suddenly he's ripping off Anna's clothes, wrapping her legs around his neck, screwing her against walls and burying himself in a consuming sexuality he's never known. Irons (Waterland) is remarkably good at showing long-dormant feelings. And Binoche (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) finds vulnerability in a woman of cruel passivity outside of the bedroom.

Damage isn't about lust; it's about the way desire is linked to pain. Anna's tragic secret – unfair to divulge here – is revealed by her mother (a pungently wry and elegant portrait from Leslie Caron). "Damaged people are dangerous," Anna tells Stephen. "They know they can survive." That theory is tested when Martyn finds Anna in bed with his father and control proves to be an illusion for everyone. Ingrid is driven to a near breakdown. Standing naked before her unfaithful husband, she rages at her body and his indifference. Richardson is extraordinary; it's a brave, award-caliber performance.

The fiercely erotic and deeply moving Damage casts a hypnotic spell and without moralizing. Stephen is left staring at a photo from his past. The image recalls a line from the book: "I have sometimes looked at old photographs of the smiling faces of victims and searched them desperately for some sign that they knew." Malle's psychological detective story doesn't turn up all the answers, but his film is no less mesmerizing for rising to the challenge.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories


    The Pack | 2006

    Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

    More Song Stories entries »