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Movies & TV

07th Apr 2023

How to fix one of the most successful and problematic erotic films ever made

Rory Cashin

indecent proposal

The original version was released 30 years ago this week.

Released in cinemas on 7 April 1993, Indecent Proposal was a huge box office success, making over $266 million worldwide on a $38 million budget. This was during a time when erotic thrillers and erotic dramas were some of the biggest cinematic genres going, but the movie also left audiences asking the question of themselves and their significant other: What would you do if someone offered you/your partner $1 million to spend the night with you/them?

Unfortunately, the movie itself never really got more interesting than asking that question. It certainly wasn’t interested in providing an interesting answer, which is how critics ended up giving it just 34% on Rotten Tomatoes, and went on to win Worst Film at that year’s Razzies. Unlike other erotic movies of the time – Basic Instinct, Single White Female, Fatal Attraction – it never really gets mentioned as a guilty pleasure or becomes the target for a potential re-evaluation.

Instead, the same problems with it within its story have done nothing but aged very, very poorly. Recent Netflix hit 365 Days pretty much tackled the same issue (albeit in a much, MUCH worse way), in that it is a variation of a “woman in prison” film, with author Susan Faludi describing the movie to the LA Times as such:

“To me, Indecent Proposal is not so much a fantasy as a nightmare. What the Robert Redford character is essentially doing is raping a woman with money. For men watching these films, it’s a way of turning back the clock to the good old days when a woman only had one way to support herself – by selling her body.”

In the movie, Diana (Demi Moore) and David (Woody Harrelson) are a happily married but extremely broke couple, who cross paths with ultra rich John (Robert Redford) while on a trip in Vegas, who makes the offer: $1 million in exchange for one night with Diana. They all agree to it, but soon afterwards, the jealousy between David and Diana begins to erode their relationship, essentially driving Diana into John’s waiting arms.

But even this original version left out a huge plot point from the 1988 novel that it was based on…

In the book, the lead character is named Joshua, and he is Jewish, and the billionaire David is Arab. The conflict was beyond just the impact of money on love, as The New York Times put it at the time, it also tackled:

“The sanctity of marriage versus the love of money, the Jew versus significant non-Jews such as shiksas and sheiks, skill versus luck, materialism versus spirituality, Israel versus the Arab countries, the past versus the future, and the religious world versus the secular one.”

Hollywood obviously swerved away from that idea in order to put in some its more famous stars in the roles instead, but bringing that back into the mix isn’t even our suggestion on how to update this story for 2023. No, instead, there should be a little role reversal of one of the major characters…

It can still be Diana (casting today… Jennifer Lawrence?) and David (maybe Austin Butler?) as the central couple, with John (Robert Downey Jnr.?) as the mega wealthy man who turns their lives upside down, but this time, John should have his sights set firmly on David instead of Diana. And, due to inflation, let us put the price up to $10 million.

By putting the spotlight on David, it would deter the idea of women simply giving into submissive roles to any man in a position of wealth and power, while also potentially giving a very interesting interpretation of sexuality and modern masculinity. For any self-described heterosexual man, or their partner, it would put a new spin on this water-cooler question as it re-enters the lexicon: What would you do if someone offered you/your partner $10 million to spend the night with you/them?

And with classic psychosexual thrillers like Dead Ringers, Fatal Attraction and Cruel Intentions all about to enjoy a modern-lens remake, how far behind can this one be? Indecent Proposal is available to rent on Google Play, Apple TV and the Sky Store right now.

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