What didn’t kill them evidently made them stronger: how else to explain so many characters who so willingly suffered — and survived — so many go ahead, kick me entertainment situations this year?
No Means Uh-Oh Sexual humiliation found high-profile devotees: Michael Douglas and Demi Moore did a slick pas de deux on the subject in Disclosure. Bitter Moon had Peter Coyote inviting — no, insisting — that Hugh Grant join his tortured sex games with Emmanuelle Seigner. In True Lies, as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife, Jamie Lee Curtis accepted orders to dress like a hooker and then strip for a man she didn’t realize was her husband, only to be thrillingly liberated by the experience.
Slime and Punishment Not everything degrading was about sex. The humiliation of men (and the manly dignity needed to survive the assault) was the slow-building theme of The Shawshank Redemption — set in a prison and starring Tim Robbins as a long-suffering, wrongly accused inmate. And the humiliation of just about everyone Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis came in contact with was the fast-acting theme of Natural Born Killers — as Leonard Cohen’s song in the same, ”The Future,” explains: ”Give me absolute control/ over every living soul/ and lie beside me, baby/that’s an order!”
Losers to the End Then there were those whose butts were caught in humiliating situations and who didn’t even recognize what they were up against. Johnny Depp, in an angora sweater and a pencil mustache as the title character in Ed Wood, exhorted his touchingly lousy actors to do his bidding in his touchingly lousy movies. Into the toilet went Dumb and Dumber costar Jeff Daniels, acting his guts out in a scene that has him stoked on a charming product called Turbo Lax. And Christopher Walken, in Pulp Fiction, described how he safeguarded the heirloom wristwatch of his dead Air Force buddy for years by storing it where, let’s say, the moon don’t shine.
The Runner-Up Got Van Gogh’s Ear There is, however, at least one artist who recognized an insult when it was handed to her. Named last March as a California ”state treasure,” writer Alice Walker (whose latest work, Warrior Marks, is about ritual female-genital mutilation) was given a statuette of a nude woman’s torso. ”Imagine my horror,” she said, ” when I was presented with a decapitated, armless, legless woman, on which my name hung from a chain.” Walker is still shaking her head about that one.