One week a month, Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: Equity inspires a look back at other films set in the corporate world.
Corporate machinations. Sexual harassment. Virtual reality. CD-ROM drives. Disclosure, based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, has aged into a glorious time capsule of the early ’90s, when political correctness experienced its first backlash, technology took a giant leap forward, and someone thought it was a good idea to give Dennis Miller a supporting role in a movie. They were heady times.
Not everyone was pleased. “WHITE MALE PARANOIA” blared the March 29, 1993, cover of Newsweek, with the subhead “Are They the Newest Victims—Or Just Bad Sports?” The story, by David Gates, took its inspiration from a movie released the prior month. In Falling Down, Michael Douglas played a disgruntled defense worker who goes on a rampage against what Gates characterizes as “a cross-section of white-guy grievances”: panhandlers, gangbangers, immigrants who don’t bother to learn English, etc. “It’s a cartoon version of the beleaguered white male in multicultural America.”
Twenty-two months after Falling Down, Douglas continued to speak for fretful men everywhere with his next film, Disclosure. This time, the concern was gender equality run amok: Douglas, playing tech executive Tom Sanders, loses out on a promotion to younger, less experienced executive Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore, 18 years Douglas’ junior at the time of release)—who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend. She lands the gig after the quasi-feminist head of the company, Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland), promotes her to help seal a highly lucrative merger.
Now Tom’s boss, Meredith asks him to come to her office for an after-hours meeting about his faulty CD-ROM drives over a bottle of wine. Once they meet up, the dialogue could’ve come from some HR department’s manual on sexual harassment. “You kept in good shape, Tom. Nice and hard,” she says. A moment later, he says, “Meredith, it’s different now, okay? You’re my boss.” “Okay,” she says, “rub my shoulders and I’ll listen to your problems.” But he can barely talk about those troublesome drives before the situation escalates. Tom eventually extricates himself—“You stick your dick in my mouth, then you get an attack of morality?” hisses Meredith—but she orders him to return. Following him out of her office with her blouse open, she shouts, “You get back here and finish what you started, or you’re fucking dead!” She doesn’t flinch when the cleaning lady sees the whole thing.
And thus begins what is essentially Fatal Attraction, Inc.: Meredith immediately begins sabotaging Tom, ostensibly for rejecting her. But her scheming goes beyond sex: She wants him to be the fall guy for those defective CD-ROM drives—which are critical to the merger—even though, as is revealed later in the film, she’s responsible for the problem. That sounds relatively simple, but Disclosure’s corporate machinations are never terribly clear. The company—particularly Garvin and a never-more-weaselly Dylan Baker as his stooge—turns on Tom even before Meredith inevitably accuses him of sexual harassment. Naturally, no one believes him when he claims she harassed him, because who’s ever heard of that? Later in the film, after that situation settles, the company continues trying to undermine Tom for reasons that aren’t obvious.
The window dressing on all of it is the futuristic ’90s tech, which includes Tom’s sexy-for-the-time cellphone, slick-looking email program, and an extended virtual-reality sequence that asks, “What if Jobe from The Lawnmower Man needed to open a filing cabinet?” But not that it stops Disclosure from becoming an (admittedly entertaining) scorned-woman thriller. In an afterword to his book, Crichton—anticipating the criticism that would soon arrive—explained the story, describing Tom and Meredith’s behavior as a Rorschach test that “tells us about ourselves.” The film, adapted by Quiz Show’s Paul Attanasio, doesn’t feel like much of a Rorschach test: Meredith is portrayed as a sexually aggressive schemer and Tom a flawed but fundamentally good guy.
“Sexual harassment is an issue with no consensus, no clear rules—and lawsuits for guys who just don’t get it,” Gates writes in that Newsweek story. He even traces the beginnings of white-male paranoia to the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, when Anita Hill testified about how the future Supreme Court justice sexually harassed her. “These days it’s hard to tell when the fear of committing sexual harassment crosses over into paranoia,” Gates writes. Disclosure seems to advocate paranoia, which makes the otherwise dated film surprisingly relevant today, when the fears surrounding the book and film have calcified into something far more toxic. Who knew Disclosure would someday feel quaint?
Availability: Disclosure is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased through the major digital services.