Kevin: The #MeToo movement continues to keep Tinseltown in suspense over who will be in its crosshairs next, starting with taking down Harvey Weinstein for his decades of sexual abuse and blackmail, to most recently exposing Aziz Ansari’s inability to recognize non-verbal cues while having oral sex performed on him. In light of the current atmosphere, the fact that Michael Douglas has been hit with accusations of sexual harassment – including the now-standard allegation of public masturbation – by a former employee is not surprising. What is surprising though is that Douglas was one of the first actors to bring such current-day issues to light, portraying a brave hero who takes a stand against the all-powerful matriarchy, as embodied by scheming career woman Demi Moore, in 1994’s “Disclosure”:
Although for a movie tackling such a hot-button issue as sexual harassment in the workplace, the tagline for “Disclosure” should really be: “Come for the steamy sex scene, stay for the endless mergers and acquisitions talk.” First though let’s meet our trailblazing protagonist: Tom Sanders, head of production for high-tech firm DigiCom, which means that, as with Harrison Ford’s IT specialist in “Firewall,” we are treated to numerous scenes where an actor who was born while WII was still going on spouts dialogue such as, “The new compression algorithms should shift the industry standard to full-res digitized video at 60 fields per second, with platform-independent risk processors supported by a 32-bit color-activate matrix display.” I have no idea what that means, and based on his performance it is obvious that neither does Douglas.
Of course since the film was based on a Michael Crichton novel at the height of Crichton-mania (including adaptations of “Jurassic Park,” “Rising Sun,” and “Congo”), and since it came out in 1994, you better believe there’s gonna be some virtual reality shit awkwardly crammed into this thing. Those of you possibly reading this after a 10-hour session with your Oculus Rift may be too young to remember, but in the mid-‘90s virtual reality was seen as the next big thing, and a number of movies including “The Lawnmower Man,” “Hideaway,” and “Virtuosity” jumped on the VR bandwagon in addition to “Disclosure,” and clearly they have all stood the test of time:
In the case of “Disclosure,” one of the big products being developed by DigiCom is a file-storage system that simply requires you to purchase a device the size of four refrigerators, put on special gloves and a headset, then wander around a cavernous virtual library, blindly pulling out computer-simulated cabinet drawers until you find the one file you needed. Obviously this is way more convenient than clicking an icon of a file on your computer, and how this device never took off is a mystery, but we do get a glimpse of such far-out technology as “electronic mail” and “cellular phones.”
Oh yeah, I forgot this movie was supposed to be about sexual harassment, and so will you since we spend so much time in the beginning watching people sit in boring meetings and discussing office politics that it almost seems like the film is a virtual simulation of our own crappy workplaces. Eventually though we meet our corporate ice queen antagonist Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore), who gets the job of Vice President for Advanced Operations that Tom assumed would be going to him.
Of course it’s not exactly a surprise when we discover that Tom and Meredith have a history together, but I at first assumed it was supposed to be some brief fling, when instead we find out later that they lived together for a while. Considering that Meredith is 33 years old in the film, and that Tom has a wife and two small children (this was back when no matter how old Douglas was, his characters usually had at least one child under the age of 6), that would mean that he was living with a woman who was at most in her early 20’s while he was at least in his early 40’s, and no one in the movie finds this weird or creepy. I guess this is chalked up to the fact that he’s seen “more ass than a rental car,” according to a coworker played by Dennis Miller (oh yeah, this is also back when people were putting Dennis Miller in films).
Either way, we finally get to the only reason why they made this film: the scene where the typical gender dynamic is reversed and Meredith sexually harasses Tom with some moves that seem to come right out of the Harvey Weinstein playbook. For instance, she invites him to her office after everyone else has left, and after he gets there her secretary soon leaves him alone with Meredith and locks the door behind her (I’m not sure why the movie makes a point of emphasizing this though since Tom could clearly unlock the door any time he wanted). Meredith even pulls the patented Harvey move of making Tom sit close to her and later asking him to rub her shoulders while they talk business.
(I’m surprised she also didn’t do the standard Harvey maneuver of making him watch her take a shower, except for the fact that Demi Moore would have required another $5 million before agreeing to such a scene. Although can we note that for such a disgusting human being, Harvey Weinstein may be the cleanest dude of all time since so many of these stories involve him either taking a bath or a shower.)
Perhaps he’s also picturing Harvey Weinstein in the bathtub, because despite her best efforts, Meredith is unable to seduce Tom willingly, so she forces herself on him instead. The following scene could probably be described as shocking, disturbing, and uncomfortably timely, were it also not so funny watching Michael Douglas struggle to convincingly act like he would ever turn down a BJ from a much younger woman (NSFW):
Actually what happens next is even more disturbing, especially for those of us in the audience. Apparently what Meredith put him through was so traumatic that Tom is immediately suffering from PTSD, including dreaming about unwanted advances from his boss played by Donald Sutherland, in a scene that feels more at home in a “Naked Gun” movie than this otherwise ridiculously serious take on a seriously ridiculous premise:
Of course this is not to say that it is impossible for a woman to sexually harass a man in the workplace, but such a scenario has likely never occurred in real life as it does in “Disclosure,” where we learn that Meredith set the whole thing up to accuse Tom of forcing himself on her and thus forcing him out of the company before a planned merger is completed. How this is easier than firing him and paying him off is never made clear, but either way Tom turns the tables and sues Meredith and the company over what happened that night.
That’s right, a MAN accuses a WOMAN of sexual harassment! Can you believe it, classic Crichton! The movie then has various characters repeatedly state the theme of the film, that “sexual harassment is not about sex, it’s about power,” and that even though Tom is a man, Meredith had the power over him. The case eventually comes to a head (no pun intended) when Tom realizes the guy he was calling when Meredith forced herself on him has the whole thing on tape. When confronted at the deposition, Meredith seemingly sinks her case, even though she provides a preview of the concerns we are seeing now from pundits like Ashleigh Banfield over whether #MeToo is in danger of going too far (Meredith: “The way we’re supposed to have sex nowadays we’d need the United Nations to supervise it”).
But while Tom is seemingly vindicated, “Disclosure” ends exactly as you would expect for a serious and dramatic examination of issues involving sexual harassment, mixed signals regarding consent, and gender inequality in the workplace: with Michael Douglas putting on a virtual reality headset and wandering around a computer-generated museum:
Yeah so even though by all rights this stupid movie should have been over at the 90-minute mark, it is still going on because apparently even losing the sexual harassment case was all a part of Meredith’s evil plan, and she is setting up Tom to fail at the meeting the next day to decide whether the merger will go through. So Tom has to do whatever the hell it is he is doing above, and while trying to find an important file the movie gives us its second-biggest laugh – after Donald Sutherland trying to stick his tongue in Douglas’ mouth of course – when it briefly tries to turn into a horror movie, with an avatar of Demi Moore appearing out of nowhere to start killing off files like a virtual Michael Meyers:
In the end though Tom proves victorious after getting help from a deus ex machina we’ve been hearing about all movie named Mohammed Jafar, who helps him procure the information he needs to take Meredith down, and finally an innocent victim of sexual harassment gets well-deserved justice against their abuser. But hold the phone, it turns out Tom may not be so innocent after all. During his deposition his female assistant testifies that he has made her uncomfortable at times due to his tendency to pat her on the behind or rub her shoulders. Actually between that and his past history of shacking up with a girl young enough to be his daughter, Tom kind of sounds like a creep, which might have been an interesting angle had the movie really wanted to be as daring as it acts like it is.
But it’s all water under the bridge, as Tom shows that there’s no inappropriate or creepy behavior that can’t be forgiven with a quick apology (you hear that James Franco?). But hopefully his experience as both a victim and a perpetrator of sexual harassment was an eye-opener for Tom, and hopefully filming “Disclosure” taught Michael Douglas a few things about keeping it in your pants around your assistants. Otherwise, who knows when a horny Donald Sutherland will show up in his dreams again: