Synopsis: A married woman agrees to have sex with another man for $1,000,000.
Director: Adrian Lyne
Writers: Jack Engelhard (novel), Amy Holden Jones (screenplay)
Stars: Robert Redford, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson
Serious Jest: (Theater) I first watched this movie in the 90s, and I remembered it as more of a 4-mug film. It is not a movie one would want to watch multiple times (unless you’re doing the I’m-going-through-a-tough-break-up-and-want-to-watch-only-dark-and-depressing-romance-movies thing). It is probably not one you want to own (unless you want to keep it on standby for when you have one of those aforementioned moments). It is not necessarily even the next movie you should see. However, on the right night, when you’re feeling particularly sentimental and/or are ready for some deep thoughts about the role of love in your life, this movie would be very much worth going to see in the theater if it came out today for the first time. I know, because I am going through a recent break-up with the person who I thought was my soul mate, the love of my life, my other half, and all that other mushy fairy-tale stuff that seems so awesome when you’re in it, but such a crock when it falls apart.
This movie spoke to me…not because I identify with any specific character in the movie–in fact, I think Harrelson’s character, David, was too much of a pussy (although Harrelson played the hell out of that role)–but because of what it’s really about at its core: human nature to fuck up the best things in our lives before we truly appreciate them, after which it’s already too late to get them back to where they were (but possibly to get back to something that still makes you happier than completely losing those things, I guess)…stay with me here. From a bystander’s perspective, it’s easy to see where the film’s characters went wrong, even as they were making their stupid choices. Hell, they probably would have seen how bad those choices would turn out themselves…before life threw them a curve ball, they experienced some real strife, they lost sight of their priorities, and they compromised their values.
As kids, we have fresh, innocent, idealistic, and optimistic views of life. We measure life’s choices against the values that we would like to have, thinking of ourselves as the people that we would like to be…in other words, we hold ourselves to higher standards of conduct because we still think of ourselves as great people in the making, and want to act accordingly. Sometime in our youth, however–and for some people, much earlier than others–we start to realize that life is tough and unforgiving, and that, in order to stick to our values, we have to make sacrifices in our wealth, time, power, popularity, personal enjoyment, or even health…that’s when many of us begin to sacrifice our values, instead. Some call this “facing reality.” I call it giving up.
To be clear, I’m not talking about fringe “values,” like refusing to drive anything other than a BMW. I’m talking about “core values,” which you hold so dear that giving them up changes who you are. They could be something as extreme as never telling a lie, or as basic as always putting your children first. Every time you sacrifice one of those by failing to act in accordance with them, no matter what the cost, you alter your path away from the person who you wanted to be. And it is always easier to give up each time after the first, until you eventually discard your value as a “naive ideal.” Don’t think that each value is separate and distinct, either…giving up on one value makes it easier to give up on another. Giving up is an easy habit to learn…conviction is built up and earned.
In my opinion, the key is to decide who you want to be, and what your core values are, before you are asked to sacrifice something to keep them. You wouldn’t wait until you’re incredibly hungry to plan your meals for the diet you’re starting, would you? You also wouldn’t make it up as you go along, right? Of course not. Instead, you would map out a solid plan and stick to that, so when the hunger pangs come, and you want to rush the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, you have an anchor to keep you from floating away into a Chunky Monkey coma. So choose your core values wisely. I’m not telling you what they should be, but once you’ve made those decisions, cling to those values when the going gets tough…because those values define you, and when you give up on them, you’re giving up on being a person that you respect. That’s how you end up 20 years later thinking, “How did I get here? This isn’t what I wanted from my life! This isn’t who I wanted to be!”
Back to the movie, though, because that’s why you’re reading this post, after all, right? And be forewarned, the rest of this post is kind of a SPOILER, so watch the movie, if you haven’t already, and resume reading when you’re done.
In my opinion, Redford’s character, John, represents the Devil, but not in the sense that I hate his character because he’s a home-wrecker…or that he’s the White Devil that all of us minorities swear has all the money and is constantly trying to keep us down. I actually mean that he represents the Biblical Devil, who tempted Adam & Eve until they screwed up Paradise…or the cruel reality of scientific coincidence…or the dark psychological side of every human being that wants to self-destruct…or the cruel prankster-demi-god Loki, who takes pleasure in playing merciless pranks on humans that ruin their lives…whatever you may believe in. See, David & Diana (Moore’s character) were faced with the harsh realities of financial crisis, but they still had the most important thing intact: their love for each other. When the Devil came to tempt them with a solution to their financial crisis, they compromised the most precious thing that they had…David knew better than to pimp his wife out, and Diana knew better than to whore herself out. They thought that they would sacrifice their values just once, but like I said before….
I drew a different lesson from John, as well. To me, he illustrated the point that good people have a responsibility to attain and control the power in this world (not at the cost of sacrificing their values, though, of course), because there are too many unworthy people in power who will unjustly pursue their whims and wishes, no matter who they have to crush to get there. John simply decided he wanted Diana, and had no problem with wrecking her marriage to get her. I’ve always believed that if you ever want to have nice things in your life, whether a great girl/guy, job, wealth, etc., you better stay ready to fight to protect them, because someone will always want what you have and be willing to step on you to get it.
As you can see, this film could inspire many different conversations, so choose who you watch it or talk about it with wisely. Or maybe I’m just really sentimental now. In any case, I invite you to post your thoughts. Please just remember to write SPOILER at the beginning of your post, if applicable.