A Guide to Notable Contributions in Cuckold Cinema

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A Guide to Notable Contributions in Cuckold Cinema

In Adrian Lyne’s highly anticipated return to the genre he helped shape (having made his earlier mark with steamy titles like Unfaithful and Indecent Proposal during the early 2000s), Deep Water heartwarmingly places the spotlight once again on cuckolds in movies. An adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name, the erotic thriller stars Ben Affleck (a man who was born to play a cuck, and has before already) as Vic Van Allen, father to young daughter Trixie and husband to the scintillating Melinda (Ana de Armas)—yet somehow in a mostly loveless marriage. But due to the couple’s commitment to keeping divorce off the table, the pair agrees to an open relationship, an arrangement whereby Melinda is allowed to pursue as many lovers as she’d like. Eternally cucked and increasingly emasculated, Vic starts to get, like, just a tiny bit jealous.

The cuckold is no newcomer to movies. From Larry Gopnik in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man to the eponymous Jules of François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, the cuck is an onscreen staple. There are countless films about and featuring cucking, being cucked, cheating, having affairs and the like. Varying degrees of infidelity are a major narrative inclusion throughout film history. Infidelity is dangerous and, therefore, can be sexier and more erotic than a straightforward romance—but sadly, it’s rarely as titillating for the cuckold. Quite the opposite, in fact. But the cuck always plays an important role in adultery, for better or for worse.

In honor of Deep Water, we celebrate the cuckold in film with this list of some of the most prominent and groundbreaking depictions of cucking in the motion pictures:

Body Heatbody-heat-inline.jpg

The late William Hurt starred alongside Kathleen Turner in this neo-noir erotic thriller centering Turner’s Matty Walker—an enigmatic woman who starts a passionate affair with Hurt’s South Florida lawyer Ned Racine. When Matty expresses the desire for a divorce from her husband, while bemoaning the pre-nuptial agreement which would leave her nearly destitute, Ned hatches a plan for the two of them to kill Matty’s husband. But things aren’t quite as they seem, and the cracks in Matty’s story give way to revelations that position Ned as more of a cuckold than the husband who is actually being cucked.


A Serious Man

In what is, in my opinion, the single greatest cuck film of all time, the center of the Coen Brothers’ most overtly Jewish work is poor husband and father Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). Larry is a professor on the cusp of tenure who finds the universe geared exclusively in opposition to his whims. One such way is that his wife, Judith (Sari Lennick), suddenly announces she is leaving him for a recent widower in their midwestern, Jewish community named Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). Larry finds himself tormented by Sy, a smooth-talking, low-key hustler—Melamed at his absolute peak—who uses his powers of persuasion to worm his way into Larry’s life while simultaneously forcing him out. Sy is dubbed a true “serious man” who, despite not being the ideal image of masculinity himself, plagues Larry’s dreams as a symbol of Larry’s own deepening emasculation.


The Royal Tenenbaumsroyal-tenebaums-inline.jpg

Eccentric bad dad Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) returns to the lives of his estranged children and ex-wife by feigning terminal illness in Wes Anderson’s sophomore feature. This is partly in an ill-advised attempt to generate sympathy and make amends with his offspring, and mostly to win back the love of their mother, Etheline (Anjelica Huston). Of course, this is a difficult task when Etheline is currently in a relationship with her long-time accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), who recently proposed to her. But it’s this very proposal and surprise cucking that catalyzed Royal’s deceitful quest to regain the respect and affections of his family, putting Royal on a jealous path that only ends up hurting those he purports to love the most.


Boogie Nightsboogie-nights-macy-inline.jpg

Paul Thomas Anderson’s expansive epic surrounding the ‘70s L.A. porn industry reaches its second act climax with a literal bang. Among the interlocking personalities met by rising pornographic actor Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) within the scene is an assistant director named Bill “Little Bill” Thompson (William H. Macy), whose wife (played by real-life porn actress Nina Hartley) regularly has sex with other men. Her character’s consistent cucking of her husband is to the point that when Little Bill vents about it to his director, Kurt Longjohn (Ricky Jay), after witnessing his wife publicly fucking another man—surrounded by an eager group of onlookers—Kurt is entirely dismissive. Unfortunately, poor Bill can only take so much cuckoldry, and he lets his true feelings on the situation be known all over the walls of a New Year’s Eve party.


Indecent Proposalindecent-proposal-inline.jpg

Of course, it would be foolish of me to not include Adrian Lyne’s other works in the Cuck Cinema canon. In his 1993 film Indecent Proposal, Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore star as David and Diana Murphey: A successful couple whose futures are put on hold by the recession. With their financial status in freefall, they head to Vegas to try gambling for mortgage money for their dream home on the slim chance of a miracle. When this expectedly doesn’t work, that’s when Robert Redford has to step in. Playing billionaire John Gage, he offers the happy couple a whopping $1 million—so long as Gage can sleep with Diana (the titular indecent proposal). Despite eventually agreeing to the terms, the trio becomes a messy love triangle in which feelings of jealousy force David and Diana apart, and Diana into a romance with Gage.


Crazy, Stupid, Lovecrazy-stupid-love-inline.jpg

It’s the name on everyone’s lips: David Lindhagen. In this 2011 rom-com, David (Kevin Bacon) is the co-worker for whom Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) is leaving her husband Cal (Steve Carrell). After asking for the divorce and revealing the affair she’d been having with David, the announcement spurs Cal’s new life as a cucked bachelor. His loud, despondent discussion of his separation at the bar he begins frequenting attracts the attention of the charismatic, womanizing Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling). The two begin an unlikely friendship, as Jacob coaches Cal into becoming more assertive and traditionally masculine in order to pick up women. As with multiple other films on the list, the act of being cucked triggers a response in the cuckold to regain his lost masculinity at the hands of the “other man,” his perceived inadequate masculinity taken as the source of his martial ills. Of course, in the end, one must learn that the only person who’s cucking you is yourself.


Eyes Wide Shuteyes-wide-shut-inline.jpg

After getting into a heated argument with his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) takes himself on an aimless odyssey that leads him to his ultimate destination: A vast mansion miles outside of the city, where masked, cloaked members of the elite take part in ritual orgy. Eyes Wide Shut is about many things—conspiracy, amorality, female sexuality, capitalism, monogamy—but it is also about emasculation. The fight which acts as the catalyst for Bill’s wild night was spurred by Bill telling Alice that he thinks that women do not have sexual proclivities the way that men do. In retaliation, she details an erotic dream she once had about a naval officer she encountered while she, Bill and their young daughter were on vacation, and that she even fantasized about leaving Bill for him. How messed up does a guy have to be to have his manhood threatened by a dream?


American Beautyamerican-beauty-inline.jpg

Due to the stresses of their marriage increasingly anchored by resentment, tedium and lovelessness, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) embarks on a futile mental love affair with his daughter’s high school best friend. Meanwhile his wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), a high-strung, Type-A personality, begins an affair with her married real estate rival, Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). Similar to Eyes Wide Shut—though the former does not feature any physical cucking like the latter—American Beauty is a film buoyed by pure “cuck vibes.” Lester, our protagonist, is a loser, and he mistakes his fixation on his daughter’s friend Angela (Mena Suvari) for an empowering awakening rather than the pathetic, mid-life crisis that it actually is.



Another one of Lyne’s classic cuck films, Unfaithful tells the story of Edward Sumner (Richard Gere), a man who discovers that his wife, Connie (Diane Lane), has been lying to him about having an affair. Plagued by the revelation, Edward seeks out the lurid details of Connie’s adultery, which eventually leads to a deadly confrontation with the very man who had been cucking him. But, similar to an onion, there are multiple layers of cuckoldry going on in the film. Not only is Connie cheating on Edward with Paul (Olivier Martinez), Paul is cheating on Connie with (allegedly) numerous other women and Paul is married, which was unbeknownst to Connie throughout the entirety of their tryst.



Eurotrip is not necessarily a film about cucking, but the plot is kicked into high gear by a legendary cuck moment that has bequeathed what is, perhaps, the greatest in-movie song of all time. Scotty Thomas (Scott Mechlowicz) is dumped by his girlfriend Fiona (Kristin Kreuk) shortly after their high school graduation. Rightfully dismayed yet deciding to pull through, Scotty attends a graduation party later that same day along with his best friend Cooper (Jacob Pitts). But it is there that the guy who Fiona had been cheating on Scotty with, Donny (the great Matt Damon, in tribal tattooed, multi-pierced, buzzed-cut glory) emerges during the party on stage with his band and performs a song explicitly detailing their affair called “Scotty Doesn’t Know.” As Damon wildly lip syncs along with the song (actually performed by Lustra), Scotty simply stands in the crowd, dejected, looking on as his very recent ex-girlfriend strips and makes lewd poses in front of a huge crowd.


Brief Encounterbrief-encounter-inline.jpg

This classic tale of lost love follows Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), a middle-class wife and mother stuck in a pleasant but dull marriage devoid of passion. During her Thursday routine of shopping and seeing a movie matinee, she meets general practitioner Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) by chance, and the pair strike up a fast, innocent friendship after two more happenstance meetings. While remaining chaste, their friendship slowly becomes more than that, and the brief, weekly meetings begin to approach infidelity. Brief Encounter is recounted through Laura’s memory while, in the present, she sits with her kind, patient husband, imagining that she is admitting her affair to him. When she finishes her tale for us, Laura’s husband admits to her that he has noticed that she’s been distant, and he thanks her for coming back to him. Classic cuck behavior.


Jules and Jimjules-et-jim.jpg

François Truffaut’s tragic love triangle involves Austrian author Jules (Oskar Werner) and Frenchman Jim (Henri Serre), two men who strike up a fast friendship prior to World War I, and both of whom end up falling in love with the same woman: Eccentric bohemian Catherine (Jeanne Moreau). Jules ultimately wins Catherine’s hand in marriage while Jim goes off to war. But upon his return, Jim discovers that Catherine has harbored unresolved feelings for him while being married to and having a child with Jules. Jules, sadly, ends up as a man cucked numerous times over, not only at his best friend’s hand but at his wife’s too, the latter of whom has essentially had a revolving door of lovers during her marriage that Jules has been fully aware of. In fact, Jules is so fearful of Catherine leaving him that he gives her and Jim his blessing to marry so that he may continue to see her. He is perhaps the most down bad guy in all of the French New Wave (do not quote me on this).


The Foot Fist Wayfoot-fist-way-inline.jpg

Fred Simmons (Danny McBride) has it all. A hot wife, a badass car and a job lording over children as he attempts to teach them the art of Taekwondo. Of course, this all changes when Fred learns that his wife, Suzy (Mary Jane Bostic), gave a hand job to her coworker while drunk at an office party. Suddenly, the braggadocious behavior which Fred once exhibited with ease shrivels up. With his confidence all but shattered, Fred begins to increase his unseemly aggro attitude in order to overcompensate for his insecurity-via-cucking—and his efforts to redeem himself go the way of further cuckoldry by the end of the film. Of course, Fred was using bombastic displays of masculinity to overcompensate well before he was physically cucked.


Being John Malkovichbeing-john-malkovich-inline.jpg

When an unemployed puppeteer takes a temp job as a filing clerk and uncovers a door in the office that leads inside actor John Malkovich’s mind, things expectedly get a little weird. In Spike Jonze’s seminal fantasy-comedy, hapless Craig (John Cusack) and his love interest/co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) start up an eccentric business charging people for access to be John Malkovich. But an unusual form of cucking occurs, when Maxine and Craig’s girlfriend, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), strike up a strange relationship. The pair falls in love with one another and pursues a sexual romance, but only while Lotte sets up shop in the mind of Mr. Malkovich. Poor Craig is left forsaken by both his women.


In the Mood for Lovein-the-mood-for-love-inline.jpg

Stuck in respective neglectful marriages and both the victims of cucking, journalist Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and secretary Su Li-shen (Maggie Cheung) begin a titillating romance together. While never physically touching, the pair’s burgeoning friendship from living in the same apartment building while both their spouses are “away on business” eventually grows into something more. But like Brief Encounter before it, In the Mood for Love is built on the aches and pains of unfulfilled desire and missed connections. Oh, to be cucked by the universe.

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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