Sunday, April 07, 2013

An Implausible Proposal

David (Woody Harrelson): I thought we were invincible. But now I know that the things that people in love do to each other, they remember. And if they stay together, it's not because they forget. It's because they forgive.

I recall hearing a story about a social gathering that Winston Churchill attended.

Churchill was talking to a young socialite. In the course of their conversation, he asked her if she would sleep with him for a huge sum of money — let's say the equivalent of $1 million.

Presumably because she was getting into what she thought was the spirit of the conversation, the socialite said she would. Churchill then asked if she would sleep with him for a ridiculously low sum (let's say a nickel).

Indignantly, the socialite demanded, "What kind of girl do you think I am?"

Churchill replied, "We've already established that. Now we're just haggling over the price."

I couldn't help thinking of that story when I watched "Indecent Proposal" — which made its theatrical debut 20 years ago today — for the first time.

Essentially, the story was about a young struggling couple, David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana (Demi Moore), sweethearts since high school who had all the annoying traits that are typical of young couples as well as a few that were uniquely theirs. For example, they had the sickeningly sweet habit of calling each other "Dee."

Anyway, they needed money to finance David's real estate project so they journeyed to Las Vegas hoping to win it.

They lost, of course.

Enter a billionaire (Robert Redford), who was so smitten with Diana that he offered $1 million for one night with her. Unlike Churchill, he never tried to bring the price down.

That, you see, was one of the things about this movie that I found impossible to believe — and I'm the kind of movie viewer who, under almost any circumstances, will bend over backwards in my effort to suspend my disbelief.

But I figured that a guy who looked like Robert Redford and was worth $1 billion could just about have his pick of female companions.

And it wouldn't cost him anywhere near $1 million for a single night, either.

But that is a rather cynical way of looking at things, isn't it? Redford's proposal really created a crisis in the previously blissfully happy relationship of the Dees.

At the time, I really was amazed at the absence of protest from the feminist element of society. Redford's character offered the money to David, not Diana. Diana was treated not as a person but as a commodity, no better than the property David hoped to sell in his real estate company.

Redford offered an amount of money that would provide, as he put it, "[a] lifetime of security ... for one night." And David took it.

That begs the obvious question: What would you do?

Given the responses of most of the critics, the answer is that few cared. But enough people went to see the movie at the theater to point to a rather obvious conclusion — most of the people who went to see it did so expecting that either the steamy previews they had seen or the title of the movie promised nudity and realistic, if not explicit, sex scenes.

In fact, the movie delivered very little of either.

In the case of the Dees, David's decision led to such an erosion of their marriage that they separated, and Diana drifted into a relationship with Redford. Still, David tried to win her back and, after many implausible speeches about morality, finally did.

But the film squandered an opportunity to take a good, hard look at greed and infidelity and wound up pandering to the lowest common denominator.