421 CHRONICLESnSCREENnThe Vanishing Adultnby Richard HobbynIn Fatal Attraction (1987), a womannjilted by her one-night stand strikesnback: she leaves his six-year-old daughter’snrabbit boiling on the stove, poursnsulfuric acid on his car, harasses himnwith vitriolic and abusive cassettes,nstages an aggressive suicide, makesnanonymous phone calls to his wife,nkidnaps his daughter, and, half-crazed,nstalks his wife with a butcher knife. Shenis finally shot by the wife.nWhat are we to make of this? Hellnhath no fury like a woman scorned?nPerhaps. But more importantly, thisnmovie represents — at least metaphorically—nthe state of relations betweennmen and women in the films ofnthe 80’s. Looking over the movies ofnthe past 50 years, it becomes strikinglynclear that although celluloid men andnwomen can still feel an erotic attractionnfor one another, they have becomenincreasingly confrontational, distrustful,nhostile, destructive, dangerous,neven deadly.nIn the 30’s, 40’s, or even the 50’s, ifnyou went to the movies, chances arenyou saw men and women who gotnalong reasonably well. If they hadnproblems, they were usually overcome.nGlancing through the notebook I keepnof every movie I see, I find suchnexamples as The Scarlet Pimperneln(1934), The Gay Divorcee (1934),nCyrano de Bergerac (1950), and MagnificentnObsession (1954).nNot every one of the earlier moviesnhad harmonious relations. Still, maritalnconcord predominated. In the last 10nyears, things almost never work outnbetween men and women. Again,nlooking through my notebook, I seensuch movies as Sophie’s Choicen(1982), Cat People (1982), andnCountry (1984). Is it any better with foreignnmovies? Not at all: Don’s Partyn(Australian, 1976), Pauline at thenVITAL SIGNSnBeach (French, 1983), Ploughman’snLunch (English, 1984), Paris, Texasn(German, 1984).nIt is certainly true that earlier moviesnhad adultery, murder, crime, and dissolutionnof all kinds. But even within thatncontext we find a difference. TakenDouble Indemnity (1944) and BodynHeat (1981), the same story 40 yearsnlater. Fred MacMurray and WilliamnHurt are each drawn by an evil womanninto murdering her husband. Despitenthe identical plot, there is one startlingndifference: MacMurray is an adult, andnHurt is not. And if we look at thenmovies I listed earlier, we find the samenpattern. There are adult men andnwomen in the older movies. But by then80’s, they have all but disappearednfrom the screen. What we find insteadnare children or half-formed adults.nThere is a causal link: when men andnwomen have not grown up, they cannotnsustain healthy relations, for theyninevitably act like insecure children.nMost fundamentally, an adult has annidentity. He knows who he is, where henfits in his society, what he is about. Henis fully formed, self-possessed, selfcontained.nHe has an inner life he canndraw on. Certainly this is true of GlennnFord in The Big Heat or of HumphreynBogart in Casablanca. And MajornStrasser, also from Casablanca, may benevil, but he is no child. But we cannotnsay the same for Dustin Hoffman innThe Graduate (1967) or for anyone innany of Woody Allen’s movies. It is nonaccident that Allen made Play It AgainnSam (1972), which is a lament that hencannot be an adult man like Bogart andnwhich contrasts Bogart, IngridnBergman, and Paul Henreid with Allen,nDiane Keaton, and Tony Roberts.nAll of Allen’s films ask the question:nBogart grew up, why can’t I?nAn adult lives in a world of moralnrules, of right and wrong, good andnevil, thou-shalt-nots. He takes themnseriously. Actions have weight. In ThenBig Chill (1983), where no one hasngrown up, one woman allows her husbandnto impregnate her lonely bestnnnfriend. This infidelity is treated as if itnhad no consequences. All actions becomentrivial in the nonadult world, butnan adult must pay for evil. WhennRobert Mitchum in Out of the Pastn(1947) follows Jane Greer to Mexiconand betrays his boss, he knows therenwill be serious consequences. This is anworld of good people and bad people.nWhen Mitchum describes Greer asnbad, his girlfriend says that nobody isnall bad. To which he replies, “Maybe.nBut she comes the closest.”nCompare this with the remake ofnOut of the Past, Against All Oddsn(1984), with the Mitchum and Greernparts played by Jeff Bridges and RachelnWard, who remain children, apparentnvictims of a system over which theynhave no control. We don’t hold smallnchildren responsible for their actions.nEvil carried out by children we callnpathology. In any case, we don’t expectnchildren to play by our rules becausenplaying by the rules includes a certainnattention to social conventions andndecorum. In Casablanca, Rick,nStrasser, and Louis all follow adultnprotocol. They dress for dinner, theynaddress each other formally, and so on.nIn consequence, their battles andnconfrontations possess a certain elegance.nThere is nothing very elegantnabout the upper-class Jack Nicholsonnin Five Easy Pieces. Responding to annofficious waitress, Nicholson shoves allnthe dishes on the table onto the floornlike a spoiled child that can’t controlnitself. Characters in contemporarynfilms have to act out every feeling.nThey are dominated by the id, naturalness,nspontaneity. (Nicholson’s methodnacting institutionalizes these verynprinciples.)nGrown men and women know thatnmaturity is worth the price. They donnot glorify childhood. It is interestingnto look at two children’s movies: ThenWizard of Oz (1939) andE.T. (1982).nIn The Wizard ofOz, Dorothy lives innKansas on a farm surrounded by wisenand loving adults. She goes on a heroicnjourney and meets mythic creaturesn