Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Watch Party Watch: The Stepford Wives (1975)

Watched:  07/17/2020
Format:  Amazon Prime Watch Party
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1970's
Director:  Bryan Forbes

The Stepford Wives (1975) is a movie you will absolutely guess how it works and what it is, and how it will end, and you should absolutely still watch it.  

Starring Katharine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), it's a New York City woman with two young girls and a husband as they move into the suburban town of Stepford, CT.  Good schools, big houses and yards, it's a post WWII dream.  Immediately we learn that Joanna's (Ross) husband didn't actually consult with her about the move, which she found out was a done deal after she saw the house and agreed to it.  But she let that slide.

Some of the women she meets are oddly Dolly Homemaker-types, but with perfect make-up and physiques.  A couple days in, she watches as one of them stands attentively while her husband gropes her in the yard.  

I don't think, after 45 years of "Stepford Wife" finding its way into the lexicon that it's a huge surprise to find out that women of the film are, one-by-one, replaced by living machines, vapid versions of the original form, who live to cook, clean and service their husbands.  It's a satire/ horror film for women of the 1970's in an era of Gloria Steinem feminism, who were the children of the WWII generation, given new opportunities for education, career and cultural change - but who found themselves in lives that, once they had those 2.5 kids and wound up in the suburbs, could find themselves wondering what happened.  At least, maybe, they were the first generation to  experience that bewildering switch as husbands who had been open to sharing and equality maybe changed their minds as they bought the house in the 'burbs and fell into old roles.  Certainly the film continues to resonate.

The scenes with Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss driving around, trying to start a Women's Club in Stepford are some of the best of the film.  Seeing the very reasonable explanations of the drones as to how they can barely remember their lives when looking great for their husband wasn't a primary concern is some good stuff, especially as we finally get to Tina Louise (Gilligan's Island) as a frustrated trophy wife who knows her husband holds her in contemp.

It's a particular brand of horror/ satire that's going to hit different people differently.  But this movie has been discussed endlessly.  From one perspective - I absolutely get the movie.  I get the fear of being wiped out and a soulless thing overtaking your space that is, as far as the world is concerned - you.  And I get the horror of losing oneself to domestic concerns, beauty regimens and becoming a mindless zombie for the will of the man in your house.

But it's also pretty simple if someone is *doing* something to you - the insinuation that husbands are *killing* their wives to have them replaced, if the satiric symbolism is followed - versus the choices people make and how they find themselves no longer recognizable as that photography enthusiast of their youth now shepherding around two kids and trying to keep a house, etc...  But I get the movie was trying to keep it straightforward.

The movie is, of course, straight nonsense.  The notion of a cabal of guys who all decide to kill their wives to replace them with animatronics has so many flaws to it - not the least of which is how hard it's going to be to explain why mommy is still 34 forever, or - let's be honest - how many guys are going to be at half-mast pondering frisky time with a Kenmore they got after dispatching the mother of their children...

None of that is the point.  That's boring YouTuber criticism.

I know Nicole Kidman participated in a 2004 remake.  Frankly, there's some deep Black Mirror-type stuff about the concept, and I'd be curious to see it revisited less as a "our husbands are secretly robo-sex-crazed monsters" and more with an eye toward how people actually give themselves up a bit at a time.  

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