Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Stepford Wives

I first came to know about The Stepford Wives when its remake came a few years ago. I was really very impressed by the concept behind the story. I never got around to watching it or reading the original novel by mystery-writer Ira Levin, author of Rosemary's Baby (which I haven't read either), on which it is based. Anyway I just saw the original 1975 adaptation of the novel and I must say I was very impressed. Not just with the concept but also the execution. It is really very well made mystery-horror-thriller and on top of that a very effective and biting feminist satire too.

The concept actually is not something new. Aldous Huxley in his novel Brave New World did envision a future when authoritarian systems will keep people in a state of catatonic conformity by robbing them of their individuality and keeping them happy, through drugs and other kinds of external physiological intervention. A future which has already come to pass, specially in the late capitalist societies. The Stepford Wives uses a somewhat similar idea.

Joanna, beautifully played by the long-haired Katharine Ross, moves to Stepford, Connecticut from New York City and finds that women in the suburb are all behaving strangely. They are all prim and proper hausfraus, totally dedicated to cooking, cleaning, ironing and stuff. And they seem to enjoy it too. On top of that they are always sexually available too. Only one of her friends Bobbie is free-spirited whose kitchen is of course dirty. Soon they find a newspaper clipping about a feminist society that used to be there in Stepford, not long ago where none other than Betty Friedan herself came to speak! They are both suspicious and think that something creepy is going on in the creepy men's association. The final twist comes when Bobbie herself changes into a baking-queen. I won't reveal what happens in the end but suffice to say it is both frightening and very funny.

The film brilliantly underscores the common-sensical point that feminism was basically a reaction against the denial of individuality and the pressure to conform to preconceived roles for women regardless of their unique personality traits. It just goes one step ahead and shows men's backlash and a hilarious extremes they will go to in order turn the tide back. Really very good. I have put the book on the reading list too.

The trailer here:


Cheshire Cat said...

What is "late capitalism" and how is it different from early capitalism?

Alok said...

I meant the culture of consumerism and related commodification of desire and the cult of instant gratification.