KLAATU YOU (18)
April 29, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
THE STEPFORD WIVES | d. BRYAN FORBES | 1975
“Why?” implores Joanna Eberhart (Katherine Ross), a young wife who dabbles in photography and feminism, just before she is murdered by the bustier, bigger-eyed robot doppelgänger who will take her place.
She knows what’s coming. She’d figured it out, and was trying to run. Just hours ago, she convinced a shrink of the danger she’s in — “There will be someone with my name, and she’ll cook and clean like crazy, but she won’t take pictures and she won’t be me. She’ll be like one of those robots in Disneyland” — a.k.a, a Stepford Wife.
She’s not kidding about the Disneyland thing. The evil mastermind behind the whole scheme is a former Disney animatronics engineer who has somehow advanced his capacities from making herky-jerky Abe Lincolns to seamlessly human copies of wives “reimagined” (in the contemporary language of innovation) as housecleaning sex slaves. And — in the most significant of the science fictions of the movie — he has kept this breakthrough in robotics for the private use of a handful of suburban husbands, rather than actually, for example, making money on it.
Joanna’s plaintive, horrified question isn’t for the doppelgänger — she’s asking the engineer, who goes by Diz (for Disneyland, lest we forget).
“Because we can,” he tells her, as if this were rational. “It’s perfect for us, and perfect for you. Think of it the other way around. Wouldn’t you like some perfect stud around the house, waiting on you, praising you, serving you, whispering to you how your sagging flesh is beautiful no matter how you look?”
“Perfect for you” is left unexplained here, perhaps because the only real logic is: it’s perfect for you because you get to be dead instead of being that person.
That notion of the sagging flesh nonetheless praised — remember whose flesh sags in this movie, whose flesh is nonetheless stroked and openly desired? The husbands’. The wives are young and vivacious. Their skin glows and their braless breasts give gravity a run for its money. Who the sagging flesh belongs to is the key to the whole movie for me. Yes, it’s about the perceived threat to the domestic and social order posed by feminism. Back to the kitchen with you, ladies, and stop trying to think for yourselves, etc. The unexpected — and insightful, prescient — bit here is the centrality to the whole system of men’s physical insecurities. The power they’re most anxious about is their attractiveness; the anxiety that must be most constantly stoked is their vanity. And the mastermind is well aware of this. It doesn’t have to be real — the women’s zombie-like love of keeping house, their devotion to consumer products as a topic of conversation, and their lust for the ineffectual minds and rotting bodies of their husbands — it just has to look real.
This, one hopes, is also a science fiction.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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