Johnny and Amber: Trouble in paradise
By Maureen Dowd
Over the years, when I felt twinges of envy, gazing at other people’s glamorous travelogues on Instagram or visiting friends who seemed to have the perfect lives, I summoned these comforting lines:
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Canmake a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
It is a fantastic reminder that people who seem to have it all — looks, talent, money, love — can make themselves miserable, while people who are not blessed with any of those things can be perfectly content. It is within our own power to be happy — or to self-destruct.
I knew John Milton wrote those lines of blank verse I loved. But I only just realized, while taking a course on Milton with professor Julie Crawford at Columbia University, that it’s from “Paradise Lost.” The line I use to banish the blues is the same line that Satan uses to banish the blues after he goes to war against God and is dumped out of Heaven, through stench and smoke, onto a fiery lake of damnation.
Milton’s line is a great insight in a world where illusion rules and where social media can amplify misperceptions and spark depressions. What you see is not necessarily what is happening. It all depends on your perspective.
Some think it was wrong to get hooked on the lurid spectacle of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial.
And it is true that, watching the degrading spiral of the once-happy pair as it unspooled in court, could make you wince: how she allegedly left feces on his bed, how he texted an actor friend that he wanted to drown and “burn Amber” and then sexually defile her corpse. The best man at the wedding testified that shortly after the ceremony, Depp joked, “Now I can punch her.”
Vile, yes. Still, there is a reason it was hard to stop watching, and it is a primal one: This is our creation story.
Prelapsarian Adam and Eve were a radiant couple, madly in love. As Milton writes, she had a slender waist and golden tresses, and he had “manly grace”; they were “Imparadis’t in one another’s arms” in Eden, enjoying “bliss on bliss” until they fell into destructive behavior, quarreling, hurling blame at each other, getting expelled from Paradise.
Posttrial stories about Heard and Depp are exploring whether they will still have careers in Hollywood or whether they will be pariahs, banished from that palm-tree-lined paradise.
Will the more than $10 million that Heard was ordered to pay Depp bankrupt her? Has she lost her shot at the “Aquaman” sequel after 4.5 million crazed Depp fans petitioned Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment to drop her?
Has Depp gone from magnetic-but-fading to repellent-and-finito? (I recall David Letterman interviewing the soft-spoken Depp and marveling at his cool.)
As an executive at a major studio told Vanity Fair, “There’s ostensibly a winner, but is there, really? In the industry, they’ve both now aired such soiled laundry that it will be difficult — for a while, anyway — to place them in something that intends to invite a wide audience.”
And for the right wing, he added, “we’ve given them further ammunition about the excesses and out-of-touchness of Hollywood and its denizens.”
The trial can be viewed as a political story and a gender story.
Indeed, misogynistic tropes started with Eve, who is blamed for tempting Adam into original sin. If only God had found some other way “to generate mankind” than by woman, “this fair defect of nature,” Milton’s Adam laments. He fears the “innumerable disturbances on earth through female snares.”
I tried to visit Eve’s tomb once in Saudi Arabia. For some Muslims, tradition holds that the gravesite of the woman who is the biblical Eve is in the Red Sea city of Jeddah (the Arabic word for “grandmother”). The cemetery’s caretaker said no women were allowed in.
“So I would have to be dead to get in?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
The trial resonated because it was a primary story. We find depictions of vertiginous falls compelling. It is human nature to be fascinated by stories that echo how our nature became human, in darker respects, once Adam and Eve were demoted to mere mortals. According to the Book of Genesis and “Paradise Lost,” the sort of behavior described in the sordid defamation trial — jealousy, violence, excess, overindulgence — came as a result of Eve giving in to Satan and Adam giving in to Eve.
When Heard and Depp were married in 2015, one of his friends told People that he was “madly in love.” And what could be more Edenic than Depp’s $100-million property portfolio, described in Hello! magazine, encompassing a French village in the Côte d’Azur, with its own restaurant, church, skate park and house with a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-themed wine cellar; a private island in the Bahamas; a Kentucky horse farm; five Los Angeles penthouses with a rooftop pool in a historic art deco building downtown; and a five-mansion compound in the Hollywood Hills? There was also a 150-foot luxury yacht he sold to J.K. Rowling in 2016.
But the Fall came quickly, and bad acts followed. The once-radiant couple was, as was mankind, Unparadised.