A couple of days ago, I watched an interesting movie. Indecent Proposal, a 1993 movie starring Demi Moore and Robert Redford, is a bad (sorry!), but enjoyable and quite thought-provoking movie. Here is a brief synopsis. Young, beautiful Diana Murphy (Demi Moore) marries her high school sweetheart. They are happy together, but they have no money. One day, billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford) approaches the young couple on the verge of bankruptcy and offers one million dollars on the condition that he spends one night with the beautiful Diana. Understandably, the couple hesitates, but they agree out of dire financial needs. The movie focuses on post one night stand repercussions. The couple’s marital trust is called into question and gets fissured. Diana begins to date with John Gage and ultimately asks for a divorce from her husband, although she revokes it at the last minute and reconciles with her husband.
I cannot rate the movie highly as a work of art, but I really enjoyed thinking about the question that the movie raised: can money buy love? The young couple David and Diana think no, and that’s why they accept Gage’s offer. He can buy the right to “fuck” Diana one time, the couple reasons, but he cannot buy her heart. Her heart will firmly stay with her husband, so it is okay. One million dollars are a lot of money. Once they are out of poverty, they can be happy again. So, let’s take the bitter pill and forget about it. On the contrary, the billionaire Gage thinks that yes, money can buy love, and that’s why he makes the offer in the first place. In one scene, Diana asks Gage why he wants her. “You have money, and you can buy any beautiful woman you want,” she says. He responds, “I want you, because you said you are not for sale. I think everything is for sale.”
The movie is entitled “Indecent Proposal.” Many will find Gage’s proposal indecent, distasteful or immoral. And the movie appeals to that common sentiment. We audiences find ourselves thinking “Oh, I will never sell my husband or wife for money. One million dollars, two million dollars. No way. Forget it.” I agree. I feel that way, too. When the young husband David throws his fists like crazy at the helicopter that takes Diana and Gage away to a remote location for their night together, we vicariously throws our fists, too.
But let’s pause here and think. Why do we respond to Gage’s proposal with revolt and disgust? There can be many different reasons why people disapprove of his proposal, but one reason that the movie presents is that, as David and Diana initially thought, money cannot buy love. Put differently, there are limits to money’s purchasing power. We put a price tag on almost all goods, and they are for sale. Nevertheless, there are limits. The young couple was right initially, in thinking that there are things in life that cannot be bought. At the same time, however, there is something that they totally missed. It is that they underestimated the power of money. Or, to put the matter more precisely, they assumed -wrongly- that there is an invincible wall that separates what money can buy from what it can’t. This is a misconception. Money and money logic threaten to seep into every part of human life. There isn’t part of human life that remain impenetrable to the attack of money logics. David and Diana, in accepting Gage’s offer, think that he can buy Diana’s body for one night but not her heart, but the truth of the matter is that the body and the heart are not two separate things. There is no wall between them. Once Gage’s money buys her body, it will insist that it buy her heart as well. Consequently, the one night stand with Gage becomes a powerful attack on her heart, as the body goes in one direction and the mind soon follows it. The movie shows that Diana, after the fateful one night with the billionaire, gets drawn and emotionally attached to him, to the extent to almost end her marriage. This is the truth regarding the power of money that the savvy John Gage knows all along. That’s why he was almost shamelessly confident about his proposal. He knows that once she sleeps with him, she will become his, both in the body and the heart.
Now, this view of the movie reminds me of one interesting article I read a few days ago. The New York Times posted the article “India Wants to Ban Birth Surrogacy for Foreigners.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/world/asia/india-wants-to-ban-birth-surrogacy-for-foreigners.html?_r=0) According to the article, the Indian government recently decided to prohibit renting Indian women’s wombs to foreigners. The article does not explain why the government made that decision. I hope that the reason has something to do with what the movie Indecent Proposal suggests: that is, there are limits to what money can buy, and Indian women’s bodies are not for sale. What surprised me was people’s reaction. So many people seem to think that the Indian government’s decision is too radical. They seem to think that instead of totally banning Indian women’s surrogacy, it should just regulate it. In their view, birth surrogacy is a win-win situation for both parties: the affluent infertile western couple gets a baby, and the poor Indian surrogate mother gets money. So why not? By allowing birth surrogacy, we actually help the poor Indian women.
To people who show this kind of responses, I want to make John Gage’s offer. “I will give you one million dollars. Let me sleep with your husband for one night.” If your answer to my proposal is, “you b*tch, go to hell,” I gladly accept and totally understand it. You don’t have to write me a philosophical tract on what money cannot buy and the danger of translating all human values into monetary terms. You intuitively know that money cannot and should not buy everything, and I am glad you do know it. Then, pray tell me how and why your intuitive knowledge suddenly stops short in the face of poor Indian women. We’re talking about a proposal to rent a woman’s body, not just for one night but for 9 1/2 months. About 300 nights. When your spouse’s body is not up for sale, what makes you think that Indian women’s bodies are for sale? If you think that you love your wife or daughter or sister so much, your love transcends money, and thus she cannot be bought or sold, what makes you think that an Indian woman, who must be somebody’s wife, daughter, and sister, can be bought or sold? With Diana, we see that where the body goes, the heart goes as well. Imagine a woman who conceives and nurtures a life for 300 nights. Could you imagine the love and the sense of attachment thus developed in this process? What makes you think that this love and this attachment can be explained away in monetary terms, when your love and your attachment cannot be translated into money? In apologies for birth surrogacy, all I hear is “no, they are not really humans. Their love does not weigh as much as mine.”