October 1219, 1995
THE SCARLET LETTER
Roland Joffe's deeply ridiculous movie is caught between rocks and hard places, from its "what were they thinking?" concept ("freely adapted from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne") to its muddled execution. The premise is both reductive and fatuous: feisty proto-feminist Hester (Demi Moore) and passionate preacher Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman) fall in love at first sight, and after some perfunctory attempts to avoid one another, conceive their child (Pearl, who narrates as an adult) in a barn, in a conventional sex scene (hands grasping at grain, heavy breathing), weirdly intercut with shots of Hester's mixed-race slave (Lisa Joliff-Andoch) taking a forbidden bath in front of a red bird, conveniently arriving in the house in order to function as Symbol (there's something very troubling in the connection between sensuality and the slave). The Puritans are oppressive, Hester is relentlessly resilient, Dimmesdale is tortured (while she's in jail, he ritually stigmatas his hands, is always in the dark and foreboding rain). Hester's husband (Robert Duvall), initially captured by the neighboring Algonquin Indians, is let loose because he's too creepy even for them (and they're portrayed here as "savages"). Of course, the Puritanical "Iron Men" Hester opposes are also savage (undertaking witchhunts to rid their settlement of impurities). The climax leading to the happy ending is particularly silly.
(AMC Andorra; AMC Bryn Mawr; AMC Orleans; UA Grant; UA Riverview; UA Baederwood)