The Women: a remake that never left the 1930s
The film, The Women, is about infidelity. Other themes are mentioned but the main conflict in the story is an affair.
The movie was based off of a 1939 film also titled The Women. In a film about relationships and marriage this should be the first tip off that this isn't exactly a progressive film. The main irony in the film is that while the entire plot revolves around men, the main show case being Steven Haines, there are no men physically present on the screen. Steven is not even a voice on the phone. Instead the only time he comes close to being present on the screen is when he sends the main character, Mary Haines, a note. The audience only sees his handwriting.
Without the men that they're discussing actually being present the women instead talk about them. Constantly. This might have been an attempt to focus on the women themselves, but it just shows that even when the husbands aren't present they are still center stage.
As previously mentioned the story is about a woman whose husband has an affair. He leaves behind his wholesome girl next door type of a wife and starts seeing the sex kitten who works at the perfume counter at Saks. The foil is perfect when Mary confronts Crystal Allen, the perfume girl, at La Perla. Crystal is trying on a two piece black and turquoise lacy undies set while Mary is trying to stuff herself into a white a-line bra.
During the confrontation Crystal informs Mary that it's actually her fault that her husband is being unfaithful. She states that wives such as Mary put too much time into other ventures and their poor husbands are forced to find comfort in another woman's vagina. Crystal ends the conversation with the upper hand.
Meanwhile, Mary finds out that her father was unfaithful to her mother and one of her friends was unfaithful to her husband. In the middle of giving birth the woman says that she had a brief affair and that her husband forgave her because he is "-a good man." Infidelity is all around with the women bravely soldiering on.
At the end of the film Mary takes her husband back and while there's no closure with Crystal's character, it can only be assumed that she is dejected and unhappy that she lost her sugar daddy. She is later pictured with a statuesque model who is so hungry that she eats napkins. This is her comeuppance. She starts having a lesbian relationship. For a movie so focused on men this seems like the ultimate insult. She is forced to be with a woman because she can't get a man. But she will get a man. Crystal is manipulative enough to be able to ensnare another husband and once she's done that, who cares about Steven Haines?
So what is the film's message? It seems to be you should forgive people who betray your trust and break wedding vows. Naturally, there is the response that humans were not made to be monogamous creatures so having multiple partners is in fact normal. However, when you are in a relationship that is supposed to be monogamous having one person suddenly decide that they want to sleep with other people is problematic. Also, if it's a natural part of evolution then why the need to hide it and lie to cover it up?
Once that trust has been broken can a romantic relationship truly recover? This infidelity has shown that your partner does not communicate their needs to you and instead attempts to find someone to fulfill the desires that they don't believe that you're providing. It has also shown that it can happen again. If the husband was delft enough to manage the affair without the wife catching on then how is the wife to know if it happens again?
Most disturbingly, the other message is that the betrayed party is blamed. While on the phone with her husband Mary claims responsibility for the affair. This is simply blaming the victim. Mary was manipulated, lied to, betrayed, and hurt. Suddenly she's the guilty party because she didn't cater to needs that she didn't know her husband had. Mary had no idea that anything was even wrong with the marriage because Steven never communicated any unhappiness to her. Instead of dealing with his wife he ran to another woman who he thought was less complicated.
If the affair is managed without anyone finding out there is a bizarre justification for it. People have somehow rationalized that telling your other half that you had an affair is just going to hurt them so there's no need to inform them at all. This is really just a continuation of the lying. This assumes that it's better for the other person to harbor under the illusion that their romantic partner hasn't deceived them. In the end it just makes it easier for the betrayer to feel less guilty by thinking "I'm doing it for their own good."
Is unfaithfulness really something that one can forgive and forget?