I was (and I'm still) going to go see Tyler Perry's new film "Temptation" but it happened to come out the same weekend as a planned vacation. So I though, no big. I'll see it on Thursday, I thought. But then it started on Facebook with enraged friends giving away the ending, screaming to anyone who would listen how infuriating the film was.
Then came Lindy West at Jezebel, who wrote this:
Temptation is a feature-length Chick tract, only with slightly less artistry and nuance. Watching this film as an atheist, it makes absolutely no sense. If you don't believe in the devil, which I don't, Temptation is simply the story of a 25-year-old woman who got married too young, is no longer compatible with her partner, is frustrated with her stalled career, and is preyed upon by a charismatic sociopath with a drug problem. Then, because of Perry's fixation on Christian moralizing, the film portrays Judith's contraction of HIV (deliberately given to her by an abusive partner) as a fitting punishment for her "sins." From a godless perspective, this isbonkers.
Outside the confines of traditional gender roles, Judith is just a woman trying to find her place in the world. She is confused, she is sad, she is frustrated. "I feel so dead with you Brice," she says. In the real world, women are not obligated to cook dinner for their husbands, or eschew casual sex, or put their careers on hold for their partners, or submit sexually to dominant men, or ignore cat-callers, or stand up to cat-callers, or swath their knees in modest hemlines, or be nice to their moms. Women are people. But in Perry's universe, women are women, and a "good woman" is a very specific and important thing to be.
Then came Louis Peitzman at Buzzfeed who straight up just put the ending in the headline (spoiler alert: she gets HIV as a punishment) and went to town:
Temptation's conclusion is problematic, to say the least. Whether or not one condones cheating on a spouse, the implication that a person deserves HIV is horrifying. What's worse, however, is that Perry has written Temptation as a morality play, in which "Man begins in innocence, Man falls into temptation, Man repents and is saved." As Madea would say, "Hallelujer."
Like Perry's other movies, there is nothing subtle about Temptation. It's not just the sin of Lust that Perry condemns: Throughout Temptation, we're also schooled on Greed (as Judith consumes more and more of what Harley buys for her), Pride (as she begins to show off her body in more revealing outfits), Wrath (Harley's violent temper), and Envy (Harley covets another man's wife). Judith's God-fearing mother Sarah (Ella Joyce) even refers to Harley as the Devil. The traditional morality play presents Satan not as a symbol but as a literal being, battling with God for a person's soul.
Viewed in this context, it's not simply that Judith deserves HIV, but that it's a "sinner's disease." HIV — at least, HIV the plot device — is Tyler Perry's punishment for our sins.
And finally, at Huffington Post, Mike Ryan writes this:
I can't remember the last time I've seen a character treated so horribly in a movie, yet Temptation presents this as reasonable requital. We already know that, as a result of cheating on her husband, Judith has been physically abused and has contracted HIV, but in the last scene of the film (set some time in the future, with the characters wearing white powder in their hair to represent aging), we see just how seriously Judith has been punished. Judith literally hobbles into the pharmacy where Brice works, leaving the audience to wonder if things perhaps worked out for the pair. Is she going to see Brice? Well, yes, she is. But only to pick up her HIV medication. The two discuss her T-cell count, as divorced couples often do.
Judith leaves as Brice's beautiful new wife (who enjoys the missionary position, I presume) and kids greet him. Brice is the clear-cut "winner." The credits roll as Judith, battered and sick, hobbles down the sidewalk, alone. Judith is the clear-cut "loser." And, we are led to believe, Judith will continue to lose. Because she once cheated on her husband.
I'm scurred, y'all. I wanted to try to have an open mind but ... soooo scurred now.