Adrian Lyne is no stranger to exploring the morals of sex. He preceded Indecent Proposal with Nine ½ Weeks and Fatal Attraction and most recently made Unfaithful. In this film, Lyne introduces the premise that everything, including everyone, can be bought for the right price. The first hour of the film, leading up to the proposal, was very well directed. It moved at a clipping pace as all the pieces fell into place and the characters became developed. We learn of the immature foundation on which Diana and David Murphy got married, their hopes and dreams, and the volatility and intensity of their love.
Certainly, the plot swirled into foolishness several times in the first hour, but we the audience allow this because we know that otherwise we cannot reach the crux of the film – the proposal. We watch unbelievingly as Diana comes at David with a knife for leaving his clothes on the floor and his shoes on the table (who puts their shoes on the table?), but two seconds later they are on the floor undressed while David’s underpants are literally on fire on the stove. This impulsive juxtaposition of violence and sex seems to happen only in the movies, but we let it slide because it is “character development.” We watch more of the naïveté of youth unfold as the Murphys buy a plot of land to build their dream house completely on loans and then get hit by the recession. We watch in disbelief as they go to Vegas to make some quick cash and actually succeed. We watch with wide-open eyes as the two of them literally make love to the money they won on a cheap off-Strip motel waterbed. We shake our heads in further disbelief as they make $25,000, half of the amount they need to settle their mortgage and then decide to continue playing and squander everything. What is most confusing is that they won all their money on craps the first day, but then lost it all playing roulette the second day. Craps has the best odds at a casino if one knows how to play, which the Murphys obviously did since they won a boatload the first day, so why would they switch to roulette which was invented only to make money off people that did not know how to play the other games?
Enter John Gage, billionaire “poonhound.” He has his eyes on Diana in a very “Pretty Woman” way. He buys her a dress and asks to borrow her from David for good luck. Finally, the film reaches its climax as he offers David a cool $1 million in exchange with one night with his wife. The couple initially rebuffs the offer, but then accepts it. The aftermath is where the story falls apart and the audience develops vehemently different opinions on the characters.
Most people love to blame Diana for the decision and its aftermath, calling her a whore. If Diana is a whore for accepting money for sex, though, David is a pimp for selling his wife. When Gage first makes the offer to the couple, there is silence in the room and it is Diana who first tells Gage to go to Hell; David corroborates. Later in bed that night, neither one can sleep and Diana urges them to talk about the proposal. Others use that as evidence that Diana wanted to sleep with Gage more than David wanted her to. However, I do believe that Diana was not lying when she said she doesn’t want to sleep with Gage, but she would for their future. She is cold to Gage the night of the deal, avoids him judiciously after the deal and even lets him see her temper when she finds out that Gage bought the property on which David and she were building their dream home. In fact, Diana stayed true to the deal and treated the one night as sex and nothing more. The two men were responsible for breaking the rules. David demanded to know what happened that night, even after they specifically agreed not to talk about it. He egged Diana on until he got what he wanted to hear. The only way the proposal could work was if both parties really were able to keep emotion out of it, jealousy on David’s part and romance on Diana’s. It is up for debate whether Diana was truly able to keep her romantic emotions separate from the business transaction, but she tried to rebuff John Gage to the best of her ability.
When John Gage first made the proposal, he said that the price would be one million dollars for one night. He never mentioned that he would buy the property that was David and Diana’s dream house. He never mentioned that he would try to buy a house, specifically going to Diana’s real estate agency. He never mentioned that he would intrude upon the citizenship class she was teaching. From the beginning, Gage was dishonest and manipulative, making what he proposed to the couple to be a very different thing from what he was planning in his head. Furthermore, on the fateful night, Gage says to Diana, “If you were mine, I wouldn’t share you with anyone.” This statement is highly unfair as it compares David to Gage while they are certainly not on the same playing field.
One issue the movie does leave unclear is why exactly Diana ends up falling for Gage. After awkwardly making her show him houses for sale (even though he had no intention of buying anything) and then conning her into looking at his own house, he tells her this terrible, sappy story about not saying “Hi” to a girl on the train when he was a teenager. Apparently this mundane story is enough to win over Diana, a fact which many people use to support the claim that Diana was attracted to him from the beginning and simply needed the opportunity to go to him.
This movie posits if one can buy people and the answer is yes, if you look like Robert Redford. It was impossible to isolate the money from the rest of John Gage. If you have money, you can certainly buy opportunities, but it takes other qualities to make someone change their opinion about you. When Indecent Proposal came out, it was (unfairly) lambasted by critics and bestowed three Razzies, but the movie got the box office public talking and the money flowing. That money may not be able to buy real emotion or a change in critical reception, but it sure does help in establishing a spot in pop culture history.