Last night, I saw the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives.
I have rarely seen a remake that was as good or better than the original film (though the exceptions are stunning: Scorcese's Cape Fear
, Hitchcock's remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much
, and grandest of all, the second version of A Star Is Born
and this was no exception. The original was daring, creepy, and--thanks to Paula Prentiss
--often hilarious. The remake tries too hard to distance itself from the original, and comes off as a series of cheap jokes and devices, though there are good performances by both Nicole Kidman and Glenn Close
To the creators' credit, however, the second version of the film is culturally up to date, and that is what makes it so terrifying. In the 1975 version, the Second Wave of feminism was peaking, and the theme of The Stepford Wives
was that men would do anything to prevent feminism from happening in their
town. The idea of women having their own thoughts and their own lives was obviously terrifying, and the town of Stepford had a solution.
In the "post-feminist" (a euphemism if ever I heard one) version, the men of Stepford are reacting to the consequences of a feminist society. Powerful women are taken to Stepford and stripped not only of their power, but of their ability to think for themselves. What gives this story such a creepy overcast is the revelation that the scheme is the brainchild of a woman.
A woman who believes that women will never again be loved and cherished by men unless they give up their power and become subservient.
We are supposed to believe that this woman (Glenn Close) is crazy because she has killed her husband and turned him into a robot, and then has gone on to devise this whole Stepford wife scheme. But films seldom lie when it comes to culture, and the Glenn Close character is so representative of current American womanhood that it makes my skin crawl. The backlash toward feminism is so strong that there is no longer a recognizable feminist movement, and only 1/3 of American women (and 1/5 of men) identify as feminists.
That only 1/3 of American women believe they should have social, economic, and political equality is more frightening than anything that could happen in Stepford. Fear of disapproval by men has always driven women to compromise their goals and give up parts of themselves, and until women give up this fear, there will always be a Stepford.
, who has never been given proper credit for being a feminist writer (The Stepford Wives
and Rosemary's Baby
) knew well what women were willing to give up in order to please men: Rosemary is so committed to the ideal of motherhood that she is willing to nurture Satan. In The Stepford Wives
, the women do not appear to have a choice, but the building of robots is, of course, a metaphor for the seduction of conformity. In the new film version of The Stepford Wives
, it is a woman--representing all women--who robotizes her own gender before its members lose the approval of their husbands and therefore suffer annihilation.
I can think of nothing creepier.