Fact #1: For all his snide good looks, Richard Gere has piggish eyes.

Fact #2: The average ejaculation of a pig comprises over one pint of semen; this sheer mass of reproductive fluid is a compelling factor in the outstanding success of the pig's reproductive strategy.

One of the most ominous demographic trends in America is the declining birthrate among the elite. While the population itself continues to grow, much of that growth is occurring at the lower and lower-middle ends of the class spectrum; the birthrate of the upper middle class is relatively stable at .9 births per person. In the upper class, however, there is a reproductive crisis at hand, with the birthrate currently at .6 and falling. Compounding this crisis is the boomer demographic itself, which ensures that the living population ages disproportionately in relation to subsequent generations. With the stock market booming, and estate taxes soon to be rolled back under the new President Bush, it is an awkward time for our upper class to be thwarted by such a nefarious yet basic social ill as a falling birthrate.

Richard Gere's films increasingly address this problem head-on. Typically, his characters are wealthy industrialists or businessmen (Pretty Woman's Edward Lewis, for example), single, and sexually inactive. The symbolic journey of the typical Gere protagonist is then from a state of reproductive latency, or celibacy, to active reproduction, or sexual conquest. That his sexual politics are de facto founded on the biological imperative of the procreative May-September relationship should surprise no one: Indeed, our reactionary critical establishment, choking on its facile liberal dogma, sees only the surface of Gere's increasingly age-disparate filmic relationships, without acknowledging the very real threats to the economic status quo that his hedonistic behavior counteracts.

Autumn in New York is at once a restatement of the importance of a proactive reproductive sexual policy among members of the upper class, as well as a unique generic transformation effectively describing the limits of this reproductive morality. The film stars Gere as Will, a wealthy, aging Lothario, who is single and therefore burdened with an undue responsibility to spread his seed widely. Will runs a popular upscale restaurant, which filmmaker Joan Chen takes great pains to paint as ground zero in the encroaching low-birthrate holocaust: Every table is seated with middle-aged couples, childless, obviously moneyed, and eerily asexual. Indeed, Will's closest friends are members of a wealthy nuclear family--the very source of Gere's reproductive mandate.

Soon, Will meets Charlotte, played by Winona Ryder, who, with her ample bosom, pale skin, large teeth, and pinched shoulders, resembles nothing if not a rabbit. The analogy is by no means random: We, the audience, are doubtless meant to recognize her fecundity outright, as does Will. He is immediately, electrically stricken with a reproductive urge, which she picks up on.

Filmmaker Chen does a thorough job of fleshing out the subtext of Ryder's character: Charlotte is constantly seen surrounded by blatant fertility imagery--variously, white horses, swans, or, most prevalently, large egg-like visual motifs. Two motifs in particular are worth noting: On their first date, Charlotte wears an alabaster dress, and a strange shawl reminiscent of either a mantle of ripe ovum or (more likely) a liberal spray of semen. This shawl contextualizes her, manifests her fertility for both the audience and Gere's character. We also frequently see Ryder underneath large, ovoid China-ball lanterns. During the active phase of her procreative union with Gere, the eggs are white: ripe, fertile, ready for insemination. Later, however, when their union has temporarily broken down, the eggs have become red: fevered, infertile, rotten, and sick.

One aspect of the film that has confused many critics is the meaning of the morbid subtext (Ryder's character has a terminal illness). Curiously, Chen seems to have a supplemental agenda at work in the film. She consciously leaves open the very distinct possibility that Charlotte is Will's daughter. The overtones are blatant: Gere's character is meant to pursue his biological mandate, to spread his fertility as widely as possible, thereby counteracting the effects of the declining birthrate among the very wealthy. By "falling in love" with Charlotte, he has fundamentally ignored his responsibility, and the ultimate price must be exacted.

Chen, ever the generous director, paints this causality in the tones of incest, thus generalizing it (we all want to commit incest) and rendering it a practical moral lesson. "It is one thing to foist reproductive coitus, for valid economic/sociopolitical reasons, on a woman 22 years your junior," Chen seems to say, "but it is quite another to commit incest."