Being a wife is some heavy shit. I in fact was raised to be a wife, an upper-middle class American Jewish wife, to be precise. Obviously this education proved a massive failure, but impressive and ongoing campaigns on the level of Hannibal’s pachyderm army were employed.
Exploring the experience of wifehood on film is a predictable pastime for directors of all genders, as domestic dramas appeal to audiences and investors. Everyone knows what a wife is and quite a handful of humans have been, are now, or will be ensconced in the wife life. It’s a thing.
While most cinematic wives are of the garden variety sort, every once in a while there is a story about married ladies that is mindblowing.
Stalker’s wife is not having a good day, for example; after umpteen promises to keep his ass at home her grumpy AF husband is once again sneaking off to someplace called The Zone and her only child, a little girl with a small and serious face, is showing signs of burgeoning telekinesis. Accordingly, writhing while braless on the kitchen floor during a torrent of tears seems understandable.
Our lady spouse from Possession is also dealing with some hardcore marital stress, culminating with some sort of biological expungement in a German underground train station, all the while carrying groceries. Wives still go to the supermarket even when suffering from corporeal exorcisms on public transit whilst en route to clandestinely visit their Lovecraftian fuck monsters, apparently.
However, all of that is secondary to the premise of The Stepford Wives, one of the more bloodcurdling plots in modern horror. By replacing actual human beings who happen to be wives with look-a-like robots, a shady Seventies “men’s club” transforms women, women to whom they have pledged the rest of their lives, to be docile dead-eyed subservient sex machines at night and spending their days mindlessly pushing shopping carts while chastely garbed in shades of sherbet. The ERA, in play around this time, did not take this possibility into account.
This technology-fueled manipulation of women in their roles as socially acceptable spouses, fawning sexual partners, and obsequiously devoted mothers is not a new concept, as Metropolis got there in 1927. However, by sidestepping the inevitable transformation of our scrappy and smart heroine into a soulless automat(r)on until the film’s despondent final three minutes, The Stepford Wives provides a terrifying and damning glimpse into the suburban groupthink of powerful men who are white, straight, and affluent. Reformatting a sentient ladyperson against her will into a semi-human gynoid-being takes a fuckton of money, I would assume, and this type of mechanical frippery has always been the pastime and pleasure of the wealthy.
Do we ever really know another person’s darkest desires and intimate pleasures, especially the one other embodied entity to whom we hitch our forever wagons? Or it is the publicly-approved facsimile of programmed monogamy that provides both the appeal and repellent of a mechanically-fueled suburban sex life? The answers to these and many other questions about marriage are arguably moot; ultimately, is the bone chilling fungibility of women’s thoughts, lives, and souls that is the sticky distillation of the shocking horror lurking in Stepford.
Thank you for reading the third entry of Cyberian Cinema, an ongoing blog series inspired by my intense love of three concepts as they are captured on film: 1) murder; 2) space; and 3) murder in space.
Stephanie Sack, AKA voluptuousrobot, identifies as a Cosmic Hostess, gothy AF, Chicago native, hot yoga junkie, UFO valet, film snob, and total weirdo.