Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Soapy, Yes; Literature, Absolutely Not

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Soapy, Yes; Literature, Absolutely Not

Article excerpt

"THE SCARLET LETTER" Rating: R, sex, violence. Running time: 2:15.

MANY QUESTIONS are raised by this stupefyingly bad movie, among them this one: If the filmmakers were determined to make a hysterical, simple-minded melodrama, why didn't they just buy a bad bodice-ripping historical romance instead of defiling one of the two or three greatest American novels?

In a just world, the people who made this mess would be facing criminal charges. However, if there is any doubt about where Nathaniel Hawthorne is buried, it can be resolved by finding the Boston-area grave that is spewing dirt because of the body revolving beneath it.

I knew we were in trouble when director Roland Joffe was quoted as calling Hawthorne's book a "badly thought-out polemic against adultery." The book is about many things, including a woman's heroism, a man's hypocrisy and the destructive effects of repressed guilt, but only an idiot - or a man who had not read it - could call it a polemic against adultery.

The first half of this absymal slime-pit of a movie is a "prequel," set before the book begins. We learn that Puritans are puritanical, and see our saucy 17th-century heroine Hester Prynne (Demi Moore, in way over her little head) fall in love with the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman, sleepwalking) after seeing him swimming nude.

Falsely believing that Hester's husband is dead, she and the Rev. writhe on a bed of grain (must have been awful for their allergies). She gets pregnant, is locked up for adultery and delivers her baby - at some bloody length - in jail. Dimmesdale begs and begs and begs Hester to let him tell the world who the daddy is, but she refuses, presumably because confession would ruin his career.

Letting Dimmesdale off the hook is just one of many ways Joffe subverts the complex mystery of this story, which has justly become a central and defining myth of American culture. …

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