Children of the Game is the most claustrophobic of all Jean Cocteau’s works, although its intense concentration on the vagaries of love is matched by its later companion piece Les Parents terribles (1938; Intimate Relations, 1952). In Cocteau’s fantasies based on myth or folklore—in the case of La Belle et la bête (1946; Beauty and the Beast, 1947)—love can play a redemptive role, rescuing characters from distortions of their inner being imposed by other forces. In his domestic dramas, however, love is a distortive affliction that leads to disaster.
Cocteau’s film version of Enfants Terribles (released in 1950) was given a restrictive X rating in Britain because the censors deemed the relationship between Paul and Elisabeth to be implicitly incestuous. This is a misleading simplification of a more complicated and more problematic network of feelings. Although Paul initially leaves the Room only to go to school, while Elisabeth clings even more closely to its sanctuary, they broaden their horizons conspicuously as they grow to sexual maturity. The Game, which absorbs them completely in their childish innocence, is dramatically transformed as they struggle to come to terms with the greater game of the social world. The possessiveness reflected in Elisabeth’s attempt to keep Paul and Agatha apart is not merely a simple desire to cling fast to what she and her brother always had. It also...
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