This will not do. It is like taking up the story of Salome after she has put the veils back on. Another problem is that there is not much action in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, except inside the minds and souls of the characters. A third is that the Rev. Dimmesdale, who impregnates poor Hester, is the leader of the local hypocrites who persecute her. Channel surfing the other morning, I came across Demi Moore just as she was describing The Scarlet Letter as "a very dense, un-cinematic book." And so it is; many of the best books are. That's what rewrites are for. The film version imagines all of the events leading up to the adultery, photographed in the style of those "Playboy's Fantasies" videos. It adds action: Indians, deadly fights, burning buildings, even the old trick where the condemned on the scaffold are saved by a violent interruption. And it converts the Rev. Dimmesdale from a scoundrel into a romantic and a weakling, perhaps because the times are not right for a movie about a fundamentalist hypocrite. It also gives us a red bird, which seems to represent the devil, and a shapely slave girl, who seems to represent the filmmakers' desire to introduce voyeurism into the big sex scenes.
The story, you may recall, involves a Puritan woman named Hester Prynne (Demi Moore) who is found to be pregnant even though her husband has not arrived in the Massachusetts Bay colony and is feared dead.
After refusing to name the father of her child, Hester is condemned to wear a scarlet letter on her bodice. Her daughter Pearl is born, and grows up as a willful little vixen. It is revealed that the father of the child is Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman), leader of the local bluenoses denouncing Hester. And then her long-lost husband, Roger Prynne (Robert Duvall), turns up, assumes another identity and tries to determine who was the thief of his wife's affections. The novel ends with poor Dimmesdale confessing his sin, crying out "His will be done! Farewell!" and dying.
It is obviously not acceptable for Dimmesdale to believe he has sinned, and so the movie cleverly transforms his big speech into a stirring cry for sexual freedom and religious tolerance. Instead of dying of a guilty seizure, he snatches the noose from Hester's neck and pulls it around his own, only to be saved when the Indians attack, driving a burning cart through the village. The roles of the puritanical local ministers are farmed out to supporting actors, and Dimmesdale is left to hang around sheepishly, keeping his guilty secret but regarding Hester with big, wet eyes that beg for forgiveness and understanding.