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A woman’s worst nightmare. March 8, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was watching the 2004 Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives” the other night, which of course brought to mind the 1975 original starring Katharine Ross. I realized that this (the original) just had to be a woman’s worst nightmare. Not “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Not Freddy or Chucky or Jaws or Norman Bates or even Hannibal Lecter. No disaster or horror movie could possibly be more disastrous or horrifying than this low-key little tale of life in a secluded Connecticut suburb.

The plot, as with any great horror movie, begins innocently enough: The heroine, an aspiring photographer, and her family move to the sunny suburb of Stepford. This squeaky-clean suburb is notable for two things: wives who look like models (with mannequin-level IQs) and act like they had been transported straight from the ’50s, and the creepy Stepford Men’s Association, to which all resident men belong. The heroine’s husband is persuaded to join this men’s club, and soon he’s asking his wife to record a lengthy series of words and phrases to assist in the research of the club’s head, who’s supposedly doing an analysis of speech, or more specifically, women’s speech.

As the film continues, the heroine happens on a number of unsettling discoveries, which lead to the realization that all the Stepford wives are actually beautiful, complacent robots, with the voice recordings of the real women. This allows their “husbands” to realize the fantasy of perfectly subservient domestic help and enthusiastic sexbots who still look and speak with the voices of the women they married, but with no personalities or thoughts or needs of their own to add stress to the men’s perfectly comfortable lives. If this reminds you of anything, from ancient Greece to the Taliban, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. But I digress.

What makes the original “Stepford Wives” a true horror movie is that it proceeds to its logical conclusion. This is also what made the classic cult movie, the marvelous Christopher Lee/Edward Woodward “The Wicker Man,” so powerful and horrifying. In both movies, the action is slow and, at least to us moderns, campy to say the least. It’s easy to mock them, make jokes, criticize, feel oh so much more sophisticated than the poor saps in those movies.

But we’ve all been inoculated with the idea of the happy ending. Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith save the world from aliens in “Independence Day.” Weak, pitiful Frodo Baggins defeats the all-powerful Sauron, Lord of the Rings. Luke Skywalker and The Karate Kid come out ahead, despite their obvious weakness. James Bond and Sherlock Holmes always get away, no matter the odds against them. Keanu Reeves is not consumed by the machines in “The Matrix.” Arnold Schwarzenegger transforms from villain to hero in the Terminator series. Harrison Ford and Donald Craig whup the alien ass in “Cowboys and Aliens.”

So it’s movies where the good guys don’t win that are the true horror movies. What if one of the Bond villains blandly pointed a gun at 007’s head and fired, rather than devising some elaborate torture-and-death scheme from which Bond inevitably escapes? What if the Clint Eastwood cowboy was gunned down and butchered, rather than riding off into the sunset? What gives “The Wicker Man” its horrific nature is that, after several hours of hysterical fun as Edward Woodward, the rigid police officer, attempts to deal with the freewheeling, unpredictable, and definitely unruly residents of a remote Scottish isle and bring them back to the arch-conservative fold, he is burned alive, screaming in agony. In “The Stepford Wives,” we expect the heroine to triumph. Instead, she is murdered and her lookalike robot takes her place, since her husband has seen how much more smoothly his life will go if he isn’t encumbered by an actual human being with thoughts, needs, and dreams.

What makes this a nightmare for all women is that the heroine’s husband is portrayed as a loving, caring person who genuinely adores his wife. But once the men of the Stepford Men’s Association point out to him the advantages of replacing his wife with a robot, he’s all for it. So what if his real wife has to die? A small price to pay for his lifelong comfort.

Would men, would your man, really prefer the ox-dumb but physically perfect, obedient mannequin to you? 

Since the original film of “The Stepford Wives” came out in 1975, there have been several attempts to answer this question. One was the marvelous 1987 Melanie Griffith cult film “Cherry 2000.” In it, the hero’s supermodel-robot, the exclusive Cherry 2000, explodes during sex after touching water. Devastated, the hero is determined to replace her with another Cherry 2000, but finds that now they’re only available on the black market and require a very hazardous trip to the outback if you want even a remote chance of getting one. He hires a fearless pilot, a real, live woman (Griffith), to fly him out into dangerous terrain. Along the way, he comes to realize that he prefers the real, live, woman (Griffith), with all her flaws, to the perfect and perfectly boring robot.

In the Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives,” the film attempts to redress the inequity of the original film by having the heroine triumph, the other wives revive after computer chips in their brains are deactivated, and the mastermind behind the whole Stepford community be revealed as a woman, a brain surgeon (Glenn Close). And Kidman’s husband, played by the always-marvelous Matthew Broderick, comes to see the error of his ways and that he loves his real wife, so he helps her sabotage the evil Men’s Association. Really? I certainly hope so, and I hope it mirrors real life.

Another recent film, “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), chronicles the adventures of a disconnected young man named Lars who orders a lifelike sex doll named Bianca and persuades his entire hometown to accept the mannequin as his girlfriend. After a number of plot twists, he manages to transfer his affection from the sex doll to a real girl.

Gack!!! Every woman surely wants to believe that people in general, and their partners in particular, love them for themselves, not for how closely they fit some stereotype of perfection. If there’s a woman in your life, please take the time to reassure her that she’s the ultimate in your life. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

            ‘Til next time,




1. Becca - March 8, 2012

Silence, I remember getting my hands on that book when I was a child (in Reader’s Digest condensed form, no less). It was quite terrifying! Ray Bradbury also has one kind of like it called “Marionettes, Inc.” and C.S. Lewis touches on it in one of his Space Trilogy books.

Hi Becca! Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll have to check them out!

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