The characters in the film are multi-layered. When we get below the surface we find that these members of the aristocracy do not present a favorable appearance at all. Their hidden world is one of scandal. Renoir's characters go beyond a love triangle. They come to represent many complex relationships and interactions. There are love triangles within love triangles and many innuendos throughout the film. The revelation of these many layers makes it much more like the world with which the audience is familiar.
The four main characters are in a tangled web of love and adultery. Andre is in love with wife of the owner of the estate, Robert. Robert has a mistress named Genevieve. When Marceau is caught poaching on the estate, he quickly falls in love with the maid, Lisette. Lisette does not spurn his advances, but she is married to Schumacher. These characters appear to be dignified in public life. However, there is not one of them that could truly be considered honest and trustworthy.
Christine is the only character that has an ounce of honesty in her. She truly believes in love and tries to take everyone at their word. She resists her feelings towards the returning aviator, choosing to stay faithful to her husband; even though she knows that he is having an affair with Genevieve. Robert promises her that the affair with Genevieve is over. She believes him, until one day she is out watching a squirrel with binoculars and accidentally sees Robert kissing Genevieve. This is a turning point in this character's life as she begins to wonder if she should allow her feelings for Andre to take over.
Passion in the movie is, for the most part, mental in origin. Any physical passions are left to the imagination of the audience. Lisette expresses her disdain for the touch of her husband by her choice of employment. She does not have to be a maid for Christine, but could choose to live in the city with her husband, Schumacher. She prefers to stay with Christine in the country, rather than to live with Schumacher.
Andre's love for Christine is in his mind, rather than in a physical sense. This allows him to keep a safe distance and allow Christine the ability to keep her honor, even though her husband is not. Robert and Genevieve seem to savor the excitement of intimate meetings, rather than anything that may happen during them. Likewise, Marceau would rather chase Lisette than actually catch her. This little diversion allows Lisette to fantasize about true love, as opposed to the miserable marriage that is her reality.
The "Rules of the Game" is about mind games, rather than physical passions. It becomes apparent that one is allowed to escape from the reality of their lives if they do not disrespect their spouse. One can fantasize, but to actually act on those fantasies would be taboo. Each of the Characters tries to convince, not only everyone else, but themselves that they are sincere and true to their spouse. The betrayal is not only to the spouse that was affected, but to themselves as well. The characters are deceiving themselves, indicating an inner struggle.
When we examine these characters from a psychological standpoint, it becomes apparent that their reality does not live up to their ideal. They are constantly trying to reconcile the differences between who they think they are and what they actually do. It is obvious that there is quite a bit of denial going on within the minds of the characters. The established rules of the game indicate that it is acceptable to have fantasies and to act on them as long as one stays within certain physical boundaries (Wendorf, 2003). Robert, Andre, and Marceau portray themselves as sincere and within the bounds of the rules. However, it becomes apparent that they are still playing a game, but their game is different from everyone else's.
The entire plot becomes a tangled web of treachery and deceit. However, all of the characters are partaking in the treachery and deceit, so instead of deciding to deny themselves the same as everyone else, they appear to have developed a sense of the rules as a means to justify their own actions. It is not considered to be treachery and deceit as long the adultery stays within certain boundaries. Each character must allow transgressions from the other in order to justify their own actions.
Symbolism and Theme
The theme of the hunt appears as a central part of the story. The hunt is used to signify the thrill of the chase. When one thinks of the use of symbolism they usually think of it as a means to enhance the plot (Gerow, 2002). However, Renoir uses it to enhance the characterization. The plot is complicated and revolves around the fantasies of the characters. The central theme is the thrill of the chase.
Often the thrill of the chase is more important than the actual kill. When the prey is caught, then the game is over. If one thinks of hunting as a form of escapism then it makes sense as far as the characters are concerned. While they are engaged in the hunt they can concentrate all of their efforts on catching the quarry. They can forget about the world that they wish to escape for a short time. However, when the prey is actually captured, there is a let down. The characters would then have to return to their reality, which is something that they do not wish to do.
The scenes of hunting rabbits and birds are a physical expression of this concept. Hunting is a physical manifestation of the catch and chase games that involve chases down the corridors and sneaking down hallways a night. Marceau was caught poaching, but this also indicates that he may not be as limited by the taboos of the others. He shows his lack of restraint in his relationship with Lisette as well. Robert's passion for wind-up mannequins and musical instruments shows his desire for order in his life. Robert is a Jew and this creates much chaos in his life. He is outside of the normal society of the time by his birthright. He has been affected directly by the Nazi regime and may not feel a strong sense of security (Sholette, 2003). His obsession with mechanical dolls may symbolize his need for order and perfection (Dewey, 2003).
His affair with Genevieve is a type of escapism. However, he knows that it is the thrill of the hunt that excites him. If he and Christine were to divorce and he was allowed to catch his prey, he may not find it as desirable as it may appear to be at first. Robert understands the realities of the world beyond the Chateau and uses his fantasies within the walls to forget about them. He does not wish to return to the real world, so he chooses to play his games within the walls.
The game inside the chateaus is much safer than the game that was taking place outside the walls (Durham, 2003). In 1939 it became apparent the surrender of Czechoslovakia to Adolph Hitler had not saved the peace. All of Europe was engulfed with a sense of impending doom. They all feared the power-hungry Hitler. The mood in France and the rest of Europe was troubled. The characters in the story were a part of this mood of doom. Their fantasies were a way to forget about the trouble outside the walls, it can be seen as an abdication of self (Pearsall, 2001). They became so enthralled in their games that it made them and the audience forgets about their troubles for a short time. The catch would have been a let down in any case. Renoir allowed the characters to leave their conflicts unresolved, which also allowed the audience to carry the feeling of escape outside the theater as well.
There are many budding romances that are taboo, even by modern standards. The characters engage in a form of escapism that allows the audience to escape into this fantasy world as well. As they become enthralled in the complexities of the characters, they too can forget about the troubles of the outside for a while. Renoir united upper and lower classes in their misery by using pairs from all levels of society. This brought the message that he was trying to convey to peoples of all walks of life.
It is apparent that the film was meant to appeal to the lower members of society due to the absurdity with which Renoir paints the upper class. Renoir demonstrates that the lower members of society have many of the same problems and worries as the upper class, but that they must deal with…