May the world not think from now on of Hester Prynne as Demi Moore in a candle cap.

THE SCARLET LETTER

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


With the making of "The Scarlet Letter," Nathaniel Hawthorne and Demi Moore have become Hollywood's latest odd couple. If that isn't enough bad luck, Hawthorne's novel has been used as a pulpit for contemporary comment by a director (Roland Joffe) who is unfettered by any feeling of obligation to the author.

Part I of this travesty chronicles the flowering of the forbidden love of Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) and Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman). They meet in a forest mudhole, where Arthur rescues Hester so she can make it to the church on time in the Puritan colony that already frowns on her independent ways.

Combustion is immediate. Hester, you see, has already seen, covertly, all of Arthur as he swam--a glorious serpent in a woodland waterfall. From that moment on, their lips quiver and their neck veins tremble until, finally, they have their wondrous roll in the corn kernels in the barn under the fascinated gaze of Hester's servant, Mituba (Lisa Jolliff-Andoh), who takes this marvelous permission and repairs immediately to Hester's steaming hot tub, where she languishes in newly acceptable sensuality.

Puritan New England is a strange stage for Demi Moore, who nurtures an inexhaustible need for America's appreciation of her naked perfection. Arms, breasts, and legs abound, and once again she presents the Vanity Fair cover shot of her universally beautiful pregnant belly. She is quite good at what she does, which is orgasm, birth, and general suffering.

Part II is the long descent from slack-jawed passion to tormented suffering. In a final melee that never flowed from Hawthorne's pen, an explosion of fashionable violence engulfs the film. Hester's long lost husband Roger (Robert Duvall) shows up as a demented prisoner of vengeance, bent on discovering the identity of his wife's lover and relishing her public humiliation.

The Scarlet "A" on a field of black (think cheerleader) has been pinned to her breast by the "iron men" who impose their undiluted bigotry on the colony they rule. The movie is studded with piercing reminders that the emotional brutality Hawthorne rendered so well still thrives as an unbroken thread of hypocrisy wherever power is concentrated. The insight is erased immediately by melodrama.

Looking at a classic tale through a modern lens works only in the most skilled of hands. When a director indulges himself, the game is over. With his meddling, Roland Joffe has made a very silly thing of Hawthorne's grand story of an independent woman in rebellion against her time.

Gary Oldman, quite good early on, takes to whining as life turns sour. Neither he nor Demi Moore is credible among a populace with names like Faith and Prudence, and they almost writhe under lines like, "Good-morrow. I must take my leave now." I think I even heard this from a soldier/rapist: "You priceless morsel, I want to poke you."

May the world not think from now on of Hester Prynne as Demi Moore in a candle cap.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Buena Vista
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h15m


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