Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves
What did Wilde mean? Perhaps he was saying that love itself corrupts or alters its object. That would certainly seem to have been true of his relationship with “Bosie”, Lord Alfred Douglas, a spoiled boy further spoiled by Wilde’s adulation.
“Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves“, sung by Jeanne Moreau is present in the soundtrack of the 1982 German-French film “Querelle” (1982) directed by Werner Fassbinder and released only a few months after his death from overdose in June 1982.
It is adapted from Jean Genet’s 1947 novel “Querelle de Brest”. Genet ( 1910 –1986) was a French novelist, playwright, poet, essayist, and political activist who, early in his life had also been a vagabond and petty criminal.
Its incipit is : “The idea of murder often evokes the idea of sea and seafarers …” and the setting is a seaport, Brest.
At the arrival of his ship we meet the protagonist, a sailor, Georges Querelle. He is a totally amoral anti-hero who is also a thief, opium smuggler and a murderer (in a sort of Dostoyevskian idea of murder as an act of total liberation) .
He is very handsome, irresistible to both men and women, who becomes fatally attracted to him. Even his superior, Lieutenant Sablon is fascinated .
He visits the Feria, a bar and brothel for sailors run by the madame Lysiane, whose lover, Robert, is Querelle’s brother, and becomes involved in the sex games of the woman and her husband. He also has a lot of other lovers that he manipulates and even kills for thrills and profit ( and this creates numerous subplots involving double-crossing, betrayals, sex and murders)
In parallel there is a plot line concerning Lieutenant Seblon, who constantly tries to protect him. Towards the end of the film, Seblon reveals his love to a drunken Querelle, and they kiss and embrace before returning to the ship.
The time of the story is not clear, the action may take place at some point before the outbreak of World War II, but a disorienting sense of timelessness permeates everything
All the characters seem trapped in hell, with no exit, and they will never stop playing their destructive games. The pessimistic and unsettling ending shows the same group of sailors boarding the ship that they had left at the beginning.
Jeanne Moreau gives dignity and humanity to Lysiane, in masochistic love with younger men. Genet didn’t portray strong female characters , but Fassbinder was a great director of actresses and Lysiane, the whorehouse madam, also offered the suggestive interpretation of a French-accented chanteuse singing “Each Man Kills the Thing He Loves”