This year marks the 25th anniversary of a Warner Bros. hit starring Demi Moore, a leading lady at the peak of her career, and Michael Douglas (Falling Down, Fatal Attraction) based on a novel by Michael Crichton (Westworld, Jurassic Park, Congo). The adaptation, which came and went without major critical or cultural notice, is an economical morality play directed by screenwriter, director and producer Barry Levinson (The Natural, Wag the Dog, Rain Man).
Disclosure (1994) begins with a precocious girl reading computer e-mail and calling to her businessman father that he has received a message congratulating him on a promotion at work. Whatever the propriety and circumstances of a girl reading her father’s private correspondence — the film’s first disclosure — the scene suggests that this is a new industrial age of changing sex roles.
Whether and how roles change and impact culture makes for a compelling socio-topical motion picture. It’s less erotic and more intelligent than its reputation to the extent the mid-90s movie is remembered.
In today’s increasingly Puritanical era of anti-sex activism amid the Me, Too movement, sorting through these issues is daunting. As a movie, Disclosure, like each picture based on Crichton’s fiction, is unremarkable; its characters are plain and essentially devoid of passion. For example, Moore’s character, businesswoman Meredith Johnson, is blank.
The Douglas character isn’t much better. After the setup shows his upper middle class suburban Pacific Northwest lifestyle, with an attorney wife driving the family motor car while being supportive of her husband and asserting her stake in his getting promoted, it’s clear that this mid-level executive is moved by others, not by his own mind, judgment and effort. He is especially subservient to women. In this sense, the late 20th century’s post-feminist matriarchalism — a world in which the male chronically submits to the female — emerges in Disclosure.
The wife (Caroline Goodall, Cliffhanger, Schindler’s List, White Squall) pronounces the film’s morality, the central theme of anti-heroic Michael Crichton’s writings, in a warning to her husband: “Don’t climb too high and get too close to God — you’ll shake the tree”. Then, comes Crichton’s name and the movie’s title in the credits. The scene is set for shaking the tree; man, as usual in a movie based on Crichton’s work, is about to fall down.
That his ex-lover gets the promotion he thinks he deserves is Disclosure‘s main twist. It’s not much as a twist but this disruption, exacerbated by Meredith Johnson’s abuse of power with sex, shakes the business, the family and society at large. There’s a sense in which the tech company, led by the boss played by Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Hunger Games, Ordinary People), drives optics via identity politics as against merit as the new normal. A values-based fossil like the passive Douglas character, who’s arguably aspiring to be the truly modern, liberated man — he’s late for work so he can be a helpmate to his wife — is becoming extinct. The ominous music affirms this when he arrives at work.
Here, too, Disclosure gives the audience pause to think as his character also crosses a line, swatting his secretary on the rear and playing politics of his own. The ensuing sexual encounter and unsubstantiated charges of sexual harassment play out with incisive detail. Is the male, especially the white male, ever really a victim? Does Meredith sleep her way to the top? Do men? Does it matter? What becomes of the family? What becomes of sex between man and woman?
What impact does this have on cultivating a proper workplace? More fundamentally, what impact does sex as power lust have on business?
With Meredith talking about instant connectivity through personal computing and virtual reality or artificial intelligence as the primary business value at stake, tech suspense spins. Sutherland’s villainous boss ponders that the coming Information Age will make truth more elusive. His accomplice, Moore’s Meredith Johnson, forecasts that technology will diminish personality distinctions in pursuit of sameness. Disclosure doesn’t put it this way but it’s eerily predictive of tech’s media, gaming and social media’s worst uses and what’s happened in the 25 years since this movie was released. In director Levinson’s capable hands, Crichton’s tech dimension adds to Disclosure‘s tension.
Disclosure ends with a potentially more benign vision of the future than Crichton’s philosophy allows. A budding scientist emerges as a check against the power lusters, though this, too, is contingent upon the subordination of male to female. The most heroic character in Disclosure is the individual who fights to uphold the sanctity of her marriage and Caroline Goodall gives the most impressive performance. Twenty-five years after this movie debuted in theaters and became known for its supposedly erotic scenes, Disclosure, perhaps unwittingly, forewarns that ‘time’s up’ for Western civilization.