George Miller’s adaptation of the so-called feminist text features Jack Nicholson as self-professed ‘horny little devil’ Daryl Van Horne who in turn seduces three women who do not know they are witches – Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michele Pfeiffer – and is only loosely based on the book of the same name by John Updike.
In small-town Eastwick, three women unknowingly create a coven with their Thursday night margarita pitchers and talk about men, coaxing stranger Daryl Van Horne into town. They eventually all are seduced by him and lull around his lavish mansion.
The film can be considered a feminist text, as most films about witches are – since they are considered powerful creatures- or it can simply be considered a film created by men, for men as they gaze at three beautiful women rolling around a king size bed in black lace undergarments, sucking on cherries. This film somehow manages to keep women in their traditional place and present them as inferior, while still presenting three strong women.
Alexandra (Cher) raised a child by herself after her husband died, Suki (Pfeiffer) raises six children after her husband left her and Jane (Sarandon) cannot have children and is divorced while dealing with inappropriate advances from her boss. The women themselves are strong and relatable characters, only until Nicholson rocks up. Then they are all enamored by his presence.
Alex’s fantastic monologue after Horne invites her to bed with him is applause worthy, (“You have demonstrated every loathsome characteristic of the male personality and even discovered a few new ones… You’re not even interesting enough to make me sick”) followed by a groan from feminists everywhere after he simply whispers a few words in her ear that somehow suddenly that changes her mind completely and they end up having sex. Cher’s badass character and otherwise strong persona made this difficult to watch, with audiences shouting at the screen for her to “snap out of it!”
This is something that Cher herself is familiar with, both in character and out of character as she revealed in a concert at Atlantic City that George Miller himself had phoned her up personally to tell her that he did not want her in his film as she was “too old and not sexy.” He continued on to say he hated the way she talked, the way she walked, the colour of her hair…” Despite this, Cher was cast in the role of Alexandra thanks to her Academy Award nominations for Mask and her Oscar for Moonstruck.
The outdated concept of the film, three men sharing the same man, causes an uproar in the fictional town due to the women’spromiscuity and owning their sexuality. The women find themselves outcast and shunned from the town, with whispers following them wherever they went. This narrative is particularly harmful to feminism as it tells both boys and girls that girls who are comfortable and confident with their sexuality are ‘promiscuous’ and that it is a bad thing.
Nicolson’s performance is nothing we haven’t seen before. His impish grin and manic personality are perfect for the role of the devil; however, it isn’t anything new. The range from mischievous and sly to downright ravenous and rabid is astounding however and should not go unrecognised. His raging monologue at the end of the film labelling women as ungrateful and naming them ‘little bitches’ and comparing them to ‘disasters’ and ‘mistakes’ is another stab in the stomach for women everywhere. It can be argued that this is empowering for ladies as he refers to the gender as ‘earthquakes’ and ‘tidal waves’ all known to be very powerful forms of nature – just like women.
The women are fantastic in their roles as well, perfectly beautiful for the role of the devil’s mistresses though they stand on their own as fabulous characters also: Cher the strong-minded sculptor, Sarandon the soothing violinist and Pfeifer the intelligent journalist.
As the feminist twist where the women attempt to send Daryl back to Hell, realising they don’t need him (only after he acts erratically and tries to harm all of them) would be a satisfying ending if they weren’t all impregnated by the devil, raising his children at the end of the film, once again labelling women as child bearers and diminishing any feminist qualities the movie ever had.