Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Cinema File #154: "Tyler Perry's Temptation" Review

Tyler Perry hates women. Now, I wouldn't presume to psychoanalyze the man any further to try and figure out where his obvious hatred of women comes from, and whether, as I might generally suspect, his cultish fundamentalism is at the heart of his fervent and indisputable misogyny, but the fact remains, this motherfucker just haaaates him some women. If you think me unfair, know first that my experience with this man's films is not limited to his latest one, as I recently took it upon myself to watch every film he's made featuring his most famous character Madea (some of which I even found relatively enjoyable). If my claim to expertise does not sway you, then all the evidence you need for my assertion can be found in the new romantic drama/thriller/rape apology Temptation.

Temptation is the story of Judith, a woman in an unhappy marriage who strays from her husband with a new man, only to find herself drawn into a life of sin, abuse, and depravity that she must invariably be punished for because Jesus. Now, I've made that "because Jesus" joke before in reference to Tyler Perry movies, and nowhere has it been more relevant than this one. In truth, I have even defended Perry in the past against the charge that his movies are nothing but shaming and proselytizing, citing Madea herself as someone who is often refreshingly apostate compared to most characters in the Perry universe. But this is just too much. I am reminded of a moment in Perry's first film Diary of a Mad Black Woman, where the kindly old grandmother casts judgement (very Christian in itself right?) against the main character for being with another man, even though her husband unapologetically had a secret other family. This movie is like that one scene for two hours, just using a twisted mockery of Christianity as a hypocritical moral bludgeon against anyone who does not conform to its oppressive cultural rulebook.

Admittedly, my experience with this particular facet of romantic engagements is very slight, as I have only been a party to it once in my life personally, but it is my view that infidelity is rarely if ever a one way street. Even when only one party is found to have cheated, chances are the motivations for it are more complicated than that person being irredeemably evil or weak. It is easy for the other person in the relationship who didn't cheat to remain oblivious to his or her role in the situation that led to their significant other seeking comfort outside of the relationship, but more often than not, I imagine they are not entirely blameless. To someone like myself not indoctrinated by the cult mentality of Perry's religious worldview, I see Judith as a woman taken for granted by an oppressively mundane husband who forces her into an outmoded gender role and actively refuses to satisfy her sexually or otherwise, thrusting her into the arms of another man. Apparently though, that wasn't the lesson I was supposed to learn from this movie.

Evidently the husband is a good guy, despite forgetting his own wife's birthday two years in a row, expecting her to hold down a career and cook him dinner every night without complaint, and despite repeatedly ignoring and rebuffing her explicit and consistent pleas that she is emotionally unfulfilled. I gather that when she tries to find what is missing in her romantic life with someone else, I'm supposed to feel sympathy for this guy, because he's a good guy, but sorry, I just don't. This guy deserves to be cheated on. Yeah, I know, you want to say no one deserves that, but if anyone deserves it, its this motherfucker. And really, its only just barely cheating. Yes, they're technically married the first time she has sex with the other guy, but by that point, its clearly apparent that the only reason she feels guilty is because of the social obligation implied by her marriage. The loving relationship had already ended, and they were only still married on paper. That Perry seems to see that paper as so important is his own perverse fetishization of the institution of marriage, and it never even occurs to me to hold it against this woman even as he tells me I should.

And going back to that first act of infidelity, the fact is, its essentially rape, or would be if this was happening in any world similar to our own, where all women don't secretly want to be raped. I know that sounds horrible, but I didn't write this movie, and that's obviously the implication of their first illicit sexual encounter. She pushes him away, says no, demands that he stop because she's married, basically doing all the things she's supposed to do, and only after he glibly points out that she has gone through the motions of resisting does she give in to her secret desire to be sexually abused. And of course, after she feels so bad about it that she pushes him away and tells him she never wants to see him again, the next day she calls him back and at his behest admits that she craves him and is pretty much subservient to him after that. But then, that's just how women are, right? All they need is a good deep dicking, and they are basically slaves after that, right? For the love of fuck, how is it that so many women find this shit so true to life and relatable? I've never met a woman who actually thinks or behaves this way.

The Perry staple elderly religious black lady who is always right, here in the role of Judith's mother, is not actually played by Tyler Perry in this one, and I wonder if this casting choice was a deliberate attempt on Perry's part to avoid having to play such a hideous, judgmental, manipulative cunt. We're meant to see her as a font of homespun Christian wisdom even after we find out she lied to her daughter for years about her father being dead, which is quickly brushed aside, because Judith is rejecting God through sin and only prayer and church can save her. When the mom holds what I gather is her cult's version of an intervention which comes across more like a seance, I couldn't help but applaud when the other man I'm supposed to hate hobbles her to the ground. Oh, and all of this happens in Judith's house, meaning clearly this moment was planned or at least agreed to by her husband to guilt his wife into coming back to him with religious shame, but no, he's still the good guy. Do I have to say that none of this looks even remotely like any form of mainstream Christianity I've ever seen, and is at best a horrible bastardization of it?

And then there's Judith's punishment. After leaving her shitty husband for an even shittier man, we come to find out that the subplot involving one of the husband's employees that seemed completely pointless until the last ten minutes actually is important, because it leads us to the revelation that Judith now has AIDs. Well, that'll show her for trying to find some semblance of happiness. If only she'd known better and stayed in her loveless marriage with the man who neglects her because his good Christian values tell him he doesn't need to try hard. Maybe now as she spends the rest of her life alone taking retrovirals as her former husband lives happily ever after with a new AIDs-less wife and the child she never gave him, she can reflect on what a whore she was for a month. That's basically the end of the movie, with an older Judith picking up her medication from her husband (a pharmacist, evidently only having this job to set up this moment of pathos), then slinking off into her now even shittier life that she totally deserves. Because she was raped and liked it.

Fuck this movie harder then every sinful and dirty woman in a Tyler Perry movie feels they need to be fucked by abusive men. The messages of this movie are so bad, that I didn't even notice the terrible filmmaking involved in bringing this horrible and disgusting story to the screen. The typical Perry style of over the top melodrama and bad dialogue, not to mention the whole Kim Kardashian thing that so many snarky people focused on in the run up to this, seem immaterial in the wake of the actual substance of the movie. That he is not a good writer or director is one thing; that he used what little talent he has to make this point is just reprehensible. As you might have gathered from this review, while I respect most religious beliefs to the extent that they are sane and harmless (unlike Perry's), I do not hold any myself, and yet after watching Temptation, I almost want there to be a Hell, just so that this asshole and everyone on the planet who thinks like him can fucking rot in it.


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