That Moment In ‘Indecent Proposal’: Eight Ball in the Corner Pocket
Indecent Proposal is a 1993 drama about a billionaire who offers $1,000,000 to a young married couple for one night with the wife.
For a short time in the 1990s, Hollywood churned out a bunch of movies where wanting to having sex with Demi Moore was the central preoccupation of everyone on the planet. You’ve got your Striptease. You’ve got your Disclosure. You’ve got your Scarlet Letter. You’ve got your Hunchback of Notre Dame (hey, that counts) and of course, the granddaddy of them all, Indecent Proposal where a guy pays big money to get a little ‘Moore’ on the side. The movie is a strange bit of romance and ripe with all kinds of disturbing themes, most especially how the filmmakers value women, and yet, there’s this seedy, pulpy campiness to it that makes it a sort of guilty pleasure. Admit it. You love this movie. Let’s talk about it.
Directed by Adrian Lyne, who made a career out of sexy thrillers, including Fatal Attraction, 9½ Weeks, and Unfaithful, to name a few, this one centers on a young couple, David (Woody Harrelson) and Diana Murphy (Demi Moore), lovers since high school. He’s got dreams, being an architect, and so the two travel to Las Vegas for one last shot at making it all happen, but … going against movie tropes, lose it all. I guess that makes sense. Be a short movie if they didn’t.
They soon run into billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford), who shows a bit of interest in Diana. And when I say a bit of interest, I mean he’s horned right up for the girl, and being a billionaire and all, does what any decent man with money would do … offers cash for a night with the lady. That ‘decent’ part of course is sarcasm and well, the title of the movie pretty much makes sure to cover their tracks on that. After fussing over the proposal, the couple decide to take him up on the deal, sign a contract and off Diana goes for a night of well … you’ll have to watch to find out.
THAT MOMENT IN
So if you were around when this movie came out, it wasn’t so much the story everyone was talking about but rather the question itself, one that every wife and girlfriend was asking their significant other: What would you do if a rich Robert Redford-type guy offered the same proposal? The answer is a fun one to ponder, and in case you’re a guy and don’t know how to answer, to rehash the ol’ meme: it’s a trap. Still, in the movie, it’s taken seriously, and makes for a cool little moment.
After a chance encounter in the casino, one where Gage sees Diana in a dress shop, he invites her and David to a gathering he’s hosting. Playing a game of pool, David, Diana and John chat a bit and eventually the conversation swings to money, because a guy like Gage is all about the bucks. This is a theme that has come up several times, with the couple in desperate need of it and recently stone broke after losing it all on roulette. That itself is a clever little twist, seeing as how movies always have the last ditch effort at the casino pay off in some slo-mo gaming moment with dice tumbling and tipping onto the right numbers just when you think they won’t. It’s kinda cool the movie flips that around and flat out breaks down some expectations.
Anyway, the subject of happiness and huge sums of cash inspires Gage to test some waters, where he suggests that despite his homes and businesses, David has something he doesn’t, hinting at the love he has with Diana. David counters that there are limits to what money can buy, with Diana adding that some things aren’t for sale. Right.
John plays along, asking, what? To which she replies emotions, that love cannot be bought. John smiles and calls it cliché, while David sides with his wife. So far so good. But John’s not done. He casually continues to run the table while suggesting a hypothetical question, if offering a million dollars for a night with Diana would change their beliefs. They respond with some hostility, both telling him they would say, ”go to hell.” But ah, the question wasn’t seen as legit, so John asks again, but this time adding that there’s real money behind it. He’s genuinely putting a million bucks down to sleep with Diana. This is for realises. Gulp.
So the whole scene seems pretty innocuous and in service only to set up the premise and get the whole thing running, but I really love this moment because of how dry it is, how Lynne photographs it, and how in-your-face it gets. Seriously, this is a very clever bit of filmmaking. And it’s all about the pool table.
The conversation is driven mostly by the men as Gage, a hugely successful businessman, who clearly does deals for a living, works the couple like their a corporation he’s about to raid and shut down, they completely unaware. It’s important to know that Diana is wearing the dress she was wishing to have in the boutique, one that she initially told him she didn’t deserve because she wasn’t something to be bought. Ha. John bought it anyway and gave it to her as gift. That she’s wearing it now, in Gage’s mind, means that her rules can be broken, and she is literally standing there like a trophy ready to be won. She never moves during this entire conversation, and you get the sense that she realizes what’s happening one step too late. It’s a damn fine looking dresss however.
David tries to keep up with the billionaire, who’s trouncing him not only at pool, but at social deconstruction. Sure, hypothetically, no one is going to off and sell their wife, even for a night – that’s an argument no man wants to have. But real money? A million dollars. Holy yikes, that’s another bag o’ beans. While they are getting the proposal, Gage keeps dropping balls on the table, and edges his way to the far side where David and Diana are standing and when he pulls out the rug and says it’s fully legit, that the money is theirs if they want it, a lifetime of security for only one night, he takes his last shot and we see the eight ball roll across the green velvet and drop into the corner pocket. Plop. It’s a win for the game, and a metaphorical ka-ching that this deal is all but done. Yeah, sure, it’s a ballsy (sorry) shot, maybe a little cheesy, but oh boy does it work in the context of the already absurd story. Forget that you can see the prop guy who rolls it in the reflection.
Indecent Proposal is never aiming high, and while the lunacy of the plot is always fodder for conversations outside of the movie, there’s a good little romance at the core of it, with all three leads doing great work. It’s contrived, and manipulative, and everything else related to unbelievable, but it’s also extremely well made and designed to be precisely what it intends, an old-fashioned love story where hearts are on the table. A scene where that love it put to the test is the best in the film, when a dashing money man makes his play for a beautiful, married lady. It’s a great cinematic moment.