The Stepford Wives

The current The Stepford Wives is a remake of the 1975 movie and 1980 television spin-off, all based on the 1972 novel by Ira Levin. Directed by Frank Oz, the current film continues to hammer a message about male chauvinistic paternalism and women’s liberation. Although the film is extremely amusing, the message is anachronistic for those who believe that women have already reached equality. But many believe that women have farther to go in achieving liberation, notably Susan Falludi in the book Backlash (1991) as well as critics of religious fanatics who insist that the Bible mandates that women should be subordinate to men, so the remake of the film is a painful reminder that 1950s “togetherness” on men’s terms is still alive and sick. In any case, Joanna Eberhart (played by Nicole Kidman) begins the current film as the successful president of television network EBS by introducing to an audience of network loyalists a segment from her latest reality show, “I Can Do Better!” The clip features a happily married couple from Omaha who are placed on a tropical island where the husband is paired with a lone voluptuous African American prostitute for a week, while the wife enjoys the company of five muscular men, some of whom are kinkily attired. At week’s end, as the video of the show depicts, the husband wants to resume his happy marriage, but his wife prefers a divorce to enjoy her freedom as a transformed woman. When the video concludes and house lights come on again, the rejected husband of the segment stands up in the audience; pulling out a gun, he shoots Joanna. Although he misses, he has already shot his wife dead, and gunshot wounds also have caused the five musclemen to be hospitalized. The network’s board of directors then decides to fire Joanna, who as a result experiences a nervous breakdown; her husband, Walter Kresby (played by Matthew Broderick), also resigns his position as EBS Vice President. He lovingly locates a new residence in the gated community of Stepford, Connecticut, as a place for her to recuperate. When they arrive, they are greeted by Claire Wellington (played by Glenn Close), who shows them to their new house and explains some of the quaint customs of the town, where women happily clean and cook for their nerdy, corpulent husbands while maintaining fine physiques to serve their husbands’ girltoys when they obediently shed their 1950s attire. Amid the well-kept, palatial houses, Joanna is shocked to see that all the women fit the dumb blonde stereotype. Meanwhile, Walter enjoys himself at the men’s club, where the boys enjoy drinking beer, smoking cigars, watching sports on television, and ordering around a robotic woman. But there are misfits in the community. Roger Bart (played by Roger Bannister), an effeminate gay man, is partnered with the husband who shot Joanna; evidently, the jury found him not guilty to restore the supremacy of patriarchy. Another misfit is Bobby Markowitz (played by Bette Middler), a disheveled Jewish novelist. One day, however, both Bobby and Roger change drastically. Roger becomes straight-appearing, and Bobby turns into another dumb blonde. Joanna now has no friend in town other than her husband, while Claire’s husband, Mike Wellington (played by Christopher Walken), briefs Walter on the town’s secret–formerly successful women have been reprogrammed to be subservient to their formerly less successful husbands. However, Walter secretly decides to deprogram the women. When he openly objects to the Stepford experiment in a confrontation with Mike, the latter comes after him. To defend Walter, Joanna hits Mike’s head, which falls off, exposing the fact that Mike is also a robot. The entire community has been designed by Joanna, a previously successful neurosurgeon. What happens next?  The final scene, captioned “Six Months Later,” has a clever ending that nails the point of the film into the heads of filmviewers. MH

Scroll to Top