By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
It's been a banner year for breaking the Sixth Commandment at the movies, and that's not even counting the cheating couples who rendezvous in the back row. In fact, if adultery were a movie—instead of serving as a crucial plot line in so many of them—our sexiest sin would be up for seven Oscars at this year's Academy Awards—one behind Dreamgirls.
Check it out:
Notes on a Scandal, the story of a married pottery teacher whose affair with one of her students throws her personal and professional lives into turmoil, is nominated for four Oscars. Cate Blanchett, who earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her portrayal of the cheating teacher, has been winning all kinds of hardware—four trophies at press time—at other awards shows for that same performance, and more are likely coming.
Little Children, which centers mostly on a young mother and father—not married to one another—who fill their empty lives by climbing into bed with one another, is in contention for three Oscars. That includes a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Jack Earle Haley, who so far has won six other awards for his role as a convicted sex offender. Hey, at least hedidn't cheat on anyone—but co-star Kate Winslett did, and she's up for Best Actress.
Not that playing someone who plays around guarantees a date with Oscar. Naomi Watts was wonderful in The Painted Veil as a woman who, dissatisfied with her marriage, achieves self-discovery when she falls into an affair, but neither she nor the movie attracted any attention from Academy nominators. However, The Painted Veil has won at least one award from every other competition it's entered, and the Independent Spirit Awards have still yet to be bestowed.
Two other noteworthy 2006 films also dealt with bedroom time among not-married-to-each-others, although they've shot blanks during the awards season. At Last shows us separately married fortysomethings rekindling their lost love, and presents it as something that's sweet and inevitable—their lies, deceits and now-broken homes be damned. The rediscovery of long-lost love also drove the plot of Tristan & Isolde, the titular characters being a British warrior and his lover who is married to the king. Then there was Lies and Alibis, a British film set in modern times, in which the hilarious Steve Coogan runs an alibi service for adulterous husbands.
The best adultery-themed movie of 2005 was Woody Allen's Match Point, which also was set in the U.K. (sounds like somebody's got issues!) and starred Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The story was familiar: poor guy marries into wealth and privilege, only to be stopped in his upwardly mobile tracks by an equally poor femme fatale. They have a torrid affair and are set to run off together—until he comes to his senses about the life he'd be leaving and decides to stick with the old money. But when his now-jilted love prepares to expose their trysts, he resorts to the final solution. Allen cut the gags, stuck to his director's chair (not even a Hitchcockian cameo) and created a stylish pic with such panache, that Match Point received an Oscar nomination, won some other awards and, more importantly, broke the Woodman's string of money-losing films at 19.
But two other adultery-themed films from 2005 were gawdawful. In We Don't Live Here Anymore, mopey, self-absorbed marrieds have affairs so dull it's a toss up who'll die of boredom first—them or the audience. Derailed, starring Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, also stretched the boundaries of tedium, never good in a movie billed as a "thriller." Worse, its central theme—don't cheat on your wife or your life will fall apart—is a tired cinematic clichť, ranking up there with funny fat sidekicks, sweeping John Williams scores and bad guys who can walk faster than people running away from them.
Moralistic critics might use the movies I've mentioned—and some more I've forgotten—to fuel long-running complaints about how an out-of-touch Hollywood glorifies adultery, further destroys the sanctity of marriage and blah-blah-repent-heathens-blah. A popcorn movie-watcher in Maryland says he and his wife made a vow in the 1990s not to watch any more flicks featuring unnecessarily adulterous subplots after noticing the trend in films like The Firm, True Lies and The Prince of Tides. The capper for them? When adultery was associated with heroism in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies, which features James Bond seducing the main villain's wife.
But embroiling our modern American movie heroes in adultery is nothing new. Remember when the married U.S. president had an affair that ended when the Secret Service killed his mistress to cover up the scandal in JFK? Oh, wait, check that. That happened in Absolute Power(1997), directed by Clint Eastwood, who also played a thief who witnessed the crime. Don't feel bad for Clint, though: two years earlier, he was the one getting it on with a married farmer's wife (Meryl Streep) in The Bridges of Madison County.
Mel Gibson may have won over the movie moralistas with The Passion of the Christ(2004), but nine years earlier he was on their shit list for all the nudity, homosexuality, foul language and, yes, adultery in Braveheart. Funny, they didn't complain so much about the violence.