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INDECENT PROPOSAL (1993)
d. Adrian Lyne; pr. Sherry Lansing; scr. Amy Holden Jones; novel. Jacke Engelhard; ph. Howard Atherton; m. John Barry; ed. Joe Hutshing; cast. Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson, Robert Redford, Oliver Platt, Billy Bob Thornton, Seymour Cassel, Billy Connolly (117 mins)
Mastering Hollywood's Modern Morality Play
Director Adrian Lyne was one of the British Invasion of Hollywood in the early 1980s.
It was then that a number of English directors with a background in television commercials achieved major box-office hits and relocated to Hollywood. These now big names included Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson. All achieved a slick professionalism but it was Adrian Lyne who developed a clear fondness for contemporary morality tales often involving sexual politics and the theme of punishment for moral transgression. Elegant and sophisticated in look and texture, Lyne’s films were upgraded adult fantasies. Of these, 9 ½ Weeks was immediately controversial and Fatal Attraction soon proved to be both a major box-office draw and an era-defining movie. Cemented as a major director with the success of Fatal Attraction, Lyne next tackled another slick morality play in Indecent Proposal, a film with a highly provocative moral “hook”, and that effectively made Lyne the ultimate mainstream couples’ director, specializing in moral fables and wish-fulfillment fantasies for the supposed “sophisticate”. Many critics resented Lyne’s success with this field, considering the films less true moral questionnaires than clever moral gimmicks to explore immoral yearnings and their consequences with a reactionary hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Indecent Proposal was a talking point above its lukewarm critical reception.
Synopsis (contains spoilers)
In Indecent Proposal, Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore play a young couple who with their house and financial obligations are in terrible trouble. In desperation they journey to Las Vegas and gamble the money, hoping to achieve the quick and easy end to their economic hardships.
A veteran gambler and billionaire (Robert Redford) considers Moore to be a lucky charm. When he later meets the couple and talks to them they discuss whether love is worth more than money. When they dispute his assertion that anything can be bought, Redford offers them a proposition: one million dollars for one night with Moore – that they would make this one moral compromise in order to have lifelong financial security. They think he is joking but when they realize he is serious, Harrelson and Moore then debate the offer. As this much money would end their problems and, they believe, enable their dream life; they decide that Moore will indeed go with Redford for one night. As Moore leaves, Harrelson reconsiders but cannot stop it. Moore then is escorted by the playboy Redford, who seeks to seduce her into acquiescence with his desires rather than her surrendering for money and toys thus with her motivations. The increasingly distraught Harrelson meanwhile seeks to stop them before Redford can bed Moore. In the meantime Moore reflects on why Harrelson would have let her go to begin with and warms to Redford.
Marital Monogamy and the Consequences of Infidelity
The film is essentially aimed at married couples and concerns, as did Fatal Attraction, the consequences of infidelity. It asks the question of a married woman if she would cheat on her husband and sleep with another man for one million dollars.
But not just any man: indeed, what if that man was none other than Robert Redford. With financial security remaining such a high priority in American life as it emerged from the “me-generation” of the 1980s, Lyne cleverly re-phrases that timeless question, that if in contemporary society, love (or at least a compromised sexual love) still cannot be bought. In this troubled yuppie Garden of Eden, Redford is the snake, the Mephistophelian rich man, the tempter and seducer: the casting in this case being perhaps perfect. Significantly, however, in this Biblical allegory on a fallen morality, the corrupting fruit is no longer knowledge, but money. Accordingly, Lyne is careful to set up its married couple as the ideal representative of contemporary values. They are a hopeful, youthful version of an ideal future for successful people, literally even building their dream home together. The conflict is not between love and money, but between morality and money, whether infidelity for any arguably valid reason is acceptable. Hence, Lyne considers love and money as the joint signs of contemporary optimism but thus dangerously symbiotic in American culture.
The practicalities of life in effect thus prioritize contemporary morality. Redford hence is determined to prove that he can not only buy Moore, but win her away from her so called true love.
It is as if Redford, as representative of American patriarchal values, saw in Moore’s love the one thing he was unable to get for himself and so sought to destroy it. Hence, Lyne rather subversively depicts a monstrously immoral but still glamorous set of patriarchal values in operation in contemporary America. Slyly, Redford is a corrupter here, not merely a seducer. He is determined to spoil a romantic ideal, not simply because he can prove a materialistic point, but because he is so consumed by these values that he wishes to possess Moore for the sake of ego. Correspondingly, this makes Indecent Proposal the darkest assessment of Redford’s glamorous playboy image to date, and it is a shame that the devilish aspects of the character do not carry through to the end. He is even referred to as the devil in the course of the film. Yet, surrender to the devil’s temptations need not be the end of all, if love is strong enough. Indeed, after Moore and Harrelson make the decision, they struggle with jealousy: temptation has led them to a moral choice and the repercussions of which threaten to ruin the very values they considered worth risking. An ideal once compromised thus needs a form of mutual forgiveness if love is to be salvaged.
The Sleek Gloss of a Consummate Professional
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is of a consistently high quality throughout. There is a ravishing use of the colours of Las Vegas casinos and startling light and shadow effects that reveal a slick, textured sense of composition.
Lyne’s trademark as a stylist has always been a cool, even coldly elegant polish and this film is further refinement of that agenda. Colour balance is superb as the transfer perfectly captures the careful lighting design, cleverly tied to the characters’ emotional plight and the moral ramifications of their actions. The Las Vegas scenes in particular are transferred perfectly, especially the one scene concerning Harrelson’s near mental breakdown as he wonders through the hotel and casino. Here the elaborate, rich sense of colour found throughout is heightened and extended so that the elegance takes on a near expressionist quality. Indeed, there is almost a wavy pattern to the film sense, with the wintrier, drab colours of the outset allowing an emotional stability that is soon challenged as more vivid primary neon colours come into play. Likewise, light and emotion are subtly linked throughout and the transfer allows this clever play on both moral enlightenment and immoral darkness its full resonance. There is a clever, noticeable use of lighting to separate fore and backgrounds on occasion. For its sheer professionalism, the deliberation behind this film’s sense of sophistication is astonishing.
Vivid and Overpowering Intoxication
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound transfer is also thankfully a standout. The richness of detail in the aural design is particularly in evidence in the Las Vegas scenes where the spatial sense and travelling sounds capture a vivid atmosphere, perfectly approximating the confusion that may become overpowering to people swept away by it.
However, that this atmosphere never does become overpowering is a sign of the cleverly maintained audio levels throughout this sound mix and the controlled sense of passion and human action underlying outbursts that Lyne considers the rhythm of human life. There is a delicate quality to each sound and the transfer enables the movement of incidental background sounds to be followed. A refined and soft mix, erupting into the musical highlights of a fine score, it makes for a consistently involving use of sound with a particularly delicate sense of background noise as opposed to moments of clarity. Needless to add, the voices are clear and distinct throughout, standing apart from the backgrounds. Dialogue is delivered by controlled and measured performers, especially Redford who is here willing to at least partially subvert his decent persona. The trappings of a playboy lifestyle are revealed in contrasting aural backgrounds as the allure of such as Redford offers is skillfully conveyed though aesthetics. The sound design here is as capably handled and controlled as the visual style.
Putting it all in Perspective
Director Adrian Lyne is indeed a master of slick elegance and is apparently quite fond of explanatory commentary tracks. Thus, his commentary is included as a special feature.
He talks of his handling of actors, of location details (especially the choice of the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas), what shots appeal to him the most, his interest in jealousy as a wholly evocative emotion and his sense of the film as a modern fairy tale. It is clear that he totally respects Robert Redford and indeed was slightly in awe of the star. He talks of character motivations and gives anecdotal accounts of the filmmaking process. It is an entertaining commentary, if not particularly enlightening. Telling is the fact that he has some reservations with the film as it emerged. The lack of any other substantial special features prevents this DVD from being truly outstanding. As it is, it is a superior entertainment nonetheless, however calculated it may be. On that note, on the basis of the ending and on Lyne’s reservations with the material and subsequent reputation Indecent Proposal on DVD emerges a safe wish-fulfillment fantasy for a married couple, particularly for a married woman who may have a chance with Redford but despite resultant problems may find if true love is meant to be then it will eventuate no matter what. Thus, whether a love that survives a consented infidelity is still an ideal is an issue left lingering over the conclusion and commentary.
USA BLU-RAY PURCHASE INFORMATION: Indecent Proposal [Blu-ray]
UK BLU-RAY PURCHASE INFORMATION: Indecent Proposal [Blu-ray]  [US Import]
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