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M. Butterfly

Theatrical poster
Directed by David Cronenberg
Produced by Gabriella Martinelli
Written by David Henry Hwang
David Henry Hwang (play)
Starring Jeremy Irons
John Lone
Barbara Sukowa
Ian Richardson
Music by Howard Shore
Cinematography Peter Suschitzky
Editing by Ronald Sanders
Studio Geffen Pictures
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) October 1, 1993
Running time 101 minutes
Country United States
Language English

M. Butterfly is a 1993 film directed by David Cronenberg. The screenplay is by David Henry Hwang and based on his play of the same name. Jeremy Irons and John Lone star, with Ian Richardson, Barbara Sukowa and Annabel Leventon.

The film has been released on DVD by Warner Bros.

Plot

Loosely based on true events (see Bernard Boursicot), the movie concerns René Gallimard, a French diplomat (Irons) assigned to Beijing, China in the 1960s. He becomes infatuated with a Chinese opera performer, Song (Lone), who spies on him for government information under orders from the Chinese government. Their affair lasts for twenty years, with Gallimard all the while apparently unaware (or willfully ignorant) of the fact that in traditional Chinese opera, all roles are performed by men. Eventually, Gallimard betrays his country and is tried for treason, which forces him to face the truth about his relationship. Faced with the unbearable truth that his lover is actually male, he himself takes on the role of Butterfly, the woman who died for the sake of an illusory love.

Themes

One theme of the film (as with the play) is Orientalist stereotypes, but Cronenberg removed many of the political overtones from the story in order to focus more intensely on the relationship between Gallimard and Song. A key line in the film is "Only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act."

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