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Perry’s ‘Temptation’ tells tale of lust and infidelity

By Jennifer S. Brown
Perry’s ‘Temptation’ tells tale of lust and infidelity
Brice (Lance Gross) and Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) in Tyler Perry’s “Temptation.” (Photo: KC Bailey)

Judith (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) with Harley (Robbie Jones) in Tyler Perry’s “Temptation.” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Anytime Tyler Perry releases a film, it seems that it is met with criticism. In his latest stage play turned movie, “Temptation, Confessions of a Marriage Counselor,” Perry has garnered criticism for his lack of sensitivity for women in abusive relationships.

“Temptation” is more than a story of a good girl gone bad; it is a cautionary tale illustrating what can happen when we allow ourselves to be tempted and start lusting after the wrong things.

“Temptation” depicts the life of Judith, played by Jurnee Smollet-Bell, best known for her roles in movies like “Eve’s Bayou,” and “The Great Debaters.” Raised by a devoutly Christian mother, Judith is from a small town. She is happily married to her childhood sweetheart, Brice, played by Lance Gross, whom she met in church at the age of 6. After marrying, the two newlyweds set out to build a life together and to fulfill their career aspirations. He wants to become a pharmacist and she wants her own practice as a marriage counselor.

Judith works at a match-making agency for millionaires where her boss, Janice (Vanessa L. Williams) assigns her to work with Harley (Robbie Jones). In this film, Harley represents the devil in human form. On the surface, Harley seems like the man of every woman’s dreams. He’s rich, attentive and charming. But proving that all that glitters is not gold, Harley becomes Judith’s worst nightmare.

Initially unimpressed by his wealth and charm, Judith rejects his advances. But like every predator, Harley hunts his prey, cunningly and purposefully. After one late-night encounter, learning that her husband is the only man that she has ever been with, Harley starts to tempt Judith, similar to Satan tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Harley starts to place doubt in her mind about the intimacy of her marriage. He says, seductively, “Sex should be random, like animals, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the car, on a plane…” not the same old routine, in the bedroom, with the lights off, after the pillows have been fluffed — which is what Judith currently experiences with her husband. These comments by Harley awaken a desire in Judith, leaving her dissatisfied and a bit curious.

Already frustrated with things at home, Judith starts to question her husband’s manhood and unconsciously starts comparing her husband to Harley. Now at Harley’s prodding, she starts to question what should be the most sacred covenant between a husband and wife: their private affairs in their bedroom.

In this film, Brice represents the “do-right” brother, and the movie, illustrates how “Mr. Do-Right” constantly loses out to “Mr. No-Good.”

Even when Harley forces himself on her, like so many women unaware of the first signs of abuse, Judith gives in. Once Harley succeeds in seducing her, she becomes intimately entangled, making it easier for him to take advantage of her and more difficult for her to escape his grasp.

Still preying on her naiveté, Harley exposes her to a life filled with sex, alcohol and drugs. She mistakes his unwelcome advances as passion, his possessiveness as love, his erratic behavior as excitement, until the first blow comes and Judith realizes that she is in too deep and she doesn’t know how to break free of this destructive relationship. Judith becomes more distanced from her husband and is filled with disdain and total disrespect towards her mother. She becomes the living example of another biblical scripture, gaining, in a sense, a whole new world at the expense of losing her soul (KJV, Mark 8:36).

In nearly all of Tyler Perry’s works, he delivers a message that his devoted viewers have come to expect and embrace. In this film, Perry is calling to our attention what we value and hold in high regard. Today, too much emphasis is placed on material, fleeting items often overlooking and under-appreciating what we already have. Values like marriage, honoring your wedding vows and remaining committed to one man or one woman lose out to a society and culture that promotes promiscuity. And like Judith, choosing a modest style of dress where one leaves a little to the imagination is mocked and ridiculed for designer labels and showing more skin.

In “Temptation,” Tyler Perry is not insensitive to women in abusive relationships. In fact, it is clear to see that Perry is trying to convey to his viewers, how easy it is for anyone to become a victim in an abusive relationship and how easy it is to blur the lines of love and abuse. Judith was a “good, Christian girl.” She was raised in the church with supportive, caring loved ones. She also had an educational background, holding a master’s degree in psychology. But through Judith’s character, Perry illustrates how letting our own insecurities lead us and ignoring the small, knowing voice that is deep within all of us can result in our downfall.