I recently watched the original version of this film from 1975 as opposed to the 2004 version with Nicole Kidman and others. The movie starts with a family of four moving from New York City to the suburbs where the mother, Joanna, starts uncovering some of the secrets of Stepford. The film attempts to make some pointed commentary in two main areas: gender relations and suburbia. Some quick thoughts:
1. On gender relations. Released in the mid 1970s (and based on a book published in 1972), the movie clearly draws upon a growing feminist movement. The heroine is married to a lawyer and has two children but also has dreams of becoming a recognized artistic photographer. Her husband seems sympathetic but then is drawn into a secretive men’s club in Stepford. Many of the women in town are supposedly what men want in wives: women who clean, cook, care for the children, and generally aim to please their husbands in all they do. Of course, Joanna eventually finds why the women are this way and is horrified.
2. Closely tied to these ideas about gender is the setting. In the city, Joanna seems to find life but feels trapped in the suburbs and comments on the lack of noise. In Stepford, the men do the important work while the women are expected to do traditional female tasks. New York City represents freedom and choices; Stepford is about repression and servitude. The film is clear: suburbia may be good for men (particularly those who high-status jobs) and children but it certainly bodes ill for women.
3. The ending is not very hopeful. I imagine the filmmaker (and book author) thought the suburbs were dragging down life across America. Of course, this film is not alone in these thoughts; there are plenty of books(fiction and non-fiction), TV shows, movies, and more that present a similar perspective. It is not too far of a leap from this film to the world of Desperate Housewives.
4. I was reminded by this film how far movies have come since the mid 1970s. The pace of the film was rather slow with some longer scenes and many took place without any music in the background. (It is hard to find movies these days that are conservative with their use of music – today, it generally seems to be amped up in order to enhance the emotional pull.) The camera shots and angles seem primitive and some of the zoom-ins were clunky. The story still comes through but the presentation these days is much smoother and manipulative.
Though the film is clunky at points, it is interesting for its attempt at commentary in the mid 1970s.