Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Films

For the last couple of years I have posted some remarks about a few films that I have seen in the past year that I felt were noteworthy. Because this blog deals mainly with films that are several years old, I haven’t always had time to view too many new ones when they are released. I hope to catch Lady Bird, The Post, Call Me By Your Name, and Darkest Hour in the upcoming weeks. Here are some that I have seen:
Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan, who has given us enigmatic films such as Memento and Inception, provides us with a fairly straightforward story here about the evacuation of British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk during World War II. There were hundreds of thousands pinned down there by the Nazis. The story, which has very little dialogue, but telling images, focuses on the soldiers of varying ranks. The cinematography emphasizes this viewpoint, and is amazing. The camera presents the men at ground level as it follows their movement on the beach. It also shows the actions and views of the pilots in the air, and the soldiers and civilians on boats. Nolan depicts a full spectrum of human behavior: those who just care about their own survival; those whose individual spirits were casualties of war; soldiers and civilians making sacrifices for others; and commanders who must make decisions about who must be rescued first. The film is a remarkable piece of work.
The Big Sick - I probably enjoyed this film most of all the 2017 ones I watched. It is not easy to fashion a story that combines serious and funny elements, but this movie does so successfully. There is very funny dialogue along with great observations of families of different backgrounds, particularly an Islamic one which shows the clash between the older and younger generations. I thought Ray Romano was particularly funny here, along with Kumail Nanjiani (who wrote the script).
The Florida Project - This was a heart-wrencher. The story smartly tells its tale from the viewpoint, mostly, of some children living in a rundown apartment complex just outside Walt Disney World. Although some of their behavior is questionable, and dangerous at times, the youngsters mainly do what kids who come from any social class do - they use their imaginations to help them enjoy playing together. Unfortunately, some adults have found that the only way to survive is through prostitution and thievery, which threatens the quality of life of the children. Willem Dafoe is moving in an understated performance as the beleaguered apartment superintendent who tries to run the place at the same time as he protects the children from outside predators and their own parents. The ending is great, showing the resilience of children who use their desire for imaginative playfulness to escape the negative aspects of their environment.
Get Out - Basically this is a horror story, and an effective one as it escalates the creepiness in the situation surrounding the visit of a young white woman and her African American boyfriend to the community where her parents live. The movie satirizes that segment of the liberal population that tries too hard to show praise for minorities, while actually embracing stereotypical aspects of the black population to the point, here, of instituting a kind of forced biological integration that amounts to a new kind of slavery. Funny and scary at the same time.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri - Here is a film that is subversive as it first sets the audience up to sympathize with an establishment-fighting mother, played by Frances McDormand, who is angry because the local police have not found the perpetrator who sexually assaulted and killed her daughter. She uses the billboards to publicize her disdain for the local authorities. We also initially hate the violent, intimidating deputy played by Sam Rockwell. But, the film then rounds out these characters as the story unfolds, and we start to be repulsed by the mother’s anger and actions, and begin to understand how the deputy became who he is. The movie becomes a metaphor for the angry partisanship that has torn our country apart, and suggests that finding a meeting ground is the only way to move forward.
The Zookeeper’s Wife - A difficult film to watch if you are an animal lover, as I am. However, Jessica Chastain’s performance draws one into this story about the Nazi invasion into Poland which almost destroys Chastain’s beloved animals in her Warsaw zoo. She must manipulate a Nazi zoologist so that she and her husband can turn the animal sanctuary into a human one as they help Jews escape persecution. The zoologist stretches the scary Nazi desire to create a master race beyond the human element as he tries to breed a German super animal population. A lesser achievement than Schindler’s List, but still a thoughtful film worth watching.
The Shape of Water - This fairy tale for adults has a lot going on in it. The story has elements of Beauty and the Beast, Splash, and Moby Dick (with Michael Shannon’s character as a sort of Ahab). Water is used as a symbol for life, crying associated with sadness, and sex. It especially deals with how a prejudicial society marginalizes outsiders (in this case a mute woman, African Americans, and gays in America in the early 1960’s). As I exited the theater, couples commented on the movie, with the men calling it weird, and the women saying it was romantic. I had to side with the women. A marvelous movie.

The next film to be analyzed is Gallipoli.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Natural

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

Yes, this 1984 film is corny and has a fair dose of sentimentality, both of which can usually prevent a movie from being taken seriously. However, this work, directed by Barry Levinson and adapted from the Bernard Malamud novel, has mythic themes, good dialogue, and interesting characters which make it a meaningful movie. And it’s entertaining.
The first shot we see is that of the main character, Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), waiting to take a train, early on in the twentieth century. He looks dejected, unsmiling, almost beaten down. But the fact that he is traveling somewhere suggests that he has not given up. We eventually see that what he really wants is to find a home, and trains have been and will be positive and negative means of transportation in his quest.

The next scene goes back to Roy’s childhood as he plays catch with his father. He lives on a farm, and the pastoral setting comes to represent the purity of the human heart that unscrupulous individuals can undermine. Roy is a “natural,” someone with an innate talent for baseball. Even as a youth he can fire a fastball that can shatter a fence. But his supportive father (Alan Fudge) warns him about the limitations of his abilities when he says, “You’ve got a gift, Roy. But it’s not enough. You’ve got to develop yourself. If you rely too much on your own gift, then you’ll fail.” With the father and son as they practice is Roy’s childhood sweetheart, Iris (her name places emphasis on sight, and in this case she has the right moral vision that can keep Roy’s eyes on the ball concerning what’s the right thing to do), and she watches over him like a guardian angel.

Roy’s father has a heart attack later and dies while working in the field. This scene reminds us of the way Clark Kent’s dad meets his end in the movie Superman, which suggests that Roy has heroic powers, too. There are also references to Arthurian legend suggested in the movie. Lightning strikes a tree close to Roy’s house, leaving a chunk of wood jutting in an upright position. Roy cuts it off and forms it into a baseball bat on which he burns in the words “Wonderboy” followed by a lightning bolt. The name sounds like a comic book superhero.The bat is the equivalent of King Arthur’s Excalibur. The lightning bolt could be considered a reference to the gods, specifically Zeus, bestowing a gift to a mortal to make him rise above other humans.

Years later the Chicago Cubs call Roy for a tryout. He goes to the grown-up Iris (Glenn Close) to tell her the good news. He says he wants to marry her after he is signed up. They appropriately consummate their relationship in the sanctity of the heartland represented by the barn on her farm, and the intimacy feels justified given that the two are soulmates. He tells her he never has been on a train before, which means he has not gone out into the world to test his strength of character.
On the train, we find a Babe Ruth-like baseball player called The Whammer (Joe Don Baker) and the reporter traveling with him, Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), whose last name is ironic, because he shows none of that attribute. He actually uses the power of the press to make others beg for his mercy. Fame and success have corrupted The Whammer, who is boastful and materialistic. There is a foreshadowing of what’s to come when Max reads aloud about how someone shot two famous sports figures with silver bullets. The Cubs scout, Sam Simpson (John Finnegan), a sort of father figure following the death of Roy’s dad, plays up Roy’s accomplishments in high school baseball, but the two men scoff at him. After Simpson leaves, The Whammer flashes his ring at a pretty woman in the car, whose name is Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), and who turns out to be the shooter, stalking her next victim.
The train stops for a while at a carnival. Simpson makes a bet with Max that Roy can strike out The Whammer on three pitches. Max assures Harriet that The Whammer is the best the game has ever seen. However, Roy strikes out The Whammer and is cheered by the crowd. We see Harriet move her gaze from The Whammer to Roy, as if adjusting the sights on her gun. In her conversation later with Roy, he is taken with her, and his move away from Iris on the train physically and spiritually causes his life to become derailed. She asks Roy if he has a girl in his life, but he ignores the question, and this denial of Iris shows his frailty and seals his fate. She makes allusions to Homer, and how if he were writing about baseball, the poet would have had a mind to write about Roy (whose first name sound like a shortened version of “royal”). But Roy’s only knowledge of Homer is in baseball when you get to run the bases to get to home plate. Homer has “home” in his name, and his character, Odysseus, also wants to get home after the Trojan War, but he must go through trials by ordeal before that happens. The same can be said of Roy, as he must go out in the world and survive before returning home. Roy tells Harriet that he will break all the records. She asks, “And then?” He says then people will say there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in the game. She asks isn’t here more than that, something greater. But Roy has the fatal flaw of Greek heroes, the one of hubris, overweening pride. Harriet then disappears in the flickering lights, like an otherworldly entity blending into the darkness (symbolic of the frightening realm in which she resides).
In Chicago, Harriet stays at Roy’s hotel and calls him to her room. She is dressed in a black negligee and pulls a veil down over her face, as if in mourning for what is to happen. Her outfit symbolically joins sexuality with tragedy. She asks him again if he will be the best in the game. When he affirms the boast, she shoots him in the left shoulder, near his pitching arm, and then we see that she no longer is in front of the window, having jumped to her death, her mission completed. She flies away, like the “Bird” her last name implies. Harriet plays the role of the “femme fatale,” or “fatal woman” who seduces the male and drains him of his power, like a vampire. This sexist archetype appears in many stories, including that of Eve and her apple, and Delilah cutting Samson’s hair in the bible. In Greek mythology, the Sirens try to destroy Odysseus with their alluring voices. Harriet is a cautionary figure who metes out punishment for those who take their gift for granted and adopt too prideful an attitude. God may giveth but he may also taketh away what he has bestowed if the recipient is undeserving.
It is after sixteen years have passed that we join up with Roy on that train platform, trying to make up for the failure of the previous trip. He has been signed to play for the New York Knights (an appropriate name given the references to the Arthurian legend) after only being with a minor league team for a couple of weeks. New York can represent the corruption that occurs in the eastern part of the United States, where moral decay has taken hold in the cities as opposed to the “New Eden” of the unspoiled American west. This theme shows up in many stories, including The Great Gatsby. The manager of the Knights, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley), who is another father figure, has a name which implies that he is a “fisher of men,” like St. Peter in the bible. Thus, Pop’s allegorical role is to help Roy redeem himself. However, when Roy first joins the team, Pop is dismissive of him, saying that a guy retires at his age instead of trying to make it as a rookie. Pop mirrors Roy’s journey, because he, too, was supposed to work on a farm, as his mother wanted, but went to the big city, substituting the playing field for the farm field. Later, coach Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth) tells Roy that Pop gave his heart and soul to the game, but fell on hard financial times. His nemesis is the Judge (Robert Prosky), who became the majority shareholder of the team when Pop had to sell off some of his shares to him. If Pop can win the pennant (a sort of Holy Grail quest) this year, then he can get the team back. But if he doesn’t achieve his goal, he is out and The Judge takes over. Pop depicts The Judge as a “snake,” bringing to mind Satan in the Garden of Eden.
Pop sees the quick signing of the older Hobbs as part of a conspiracy led by The Judge to undermine the team’s success. Not that the Knights need any help in losing. They look pathetic on the field, committing numerous errors. Roy’s uniform number is 9, the same as Ted Williams, arguably the greatest hitter in the history of baseball. Despite his attempt to try to recapture his dream of playing in the big leagues, Roy still has the flaw of being attracted to the femme fatale, in this case, Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), who happens to be Pop’s niece. It is especially treacherous that Pop’s own relative conspires with The Judge, Max Mercy, and the bookie, Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) to bring Pop down. Pop believes in luck and jinxes, which makes him in tune with the magical realism of the story. He warns Roy that although he loves his niece, he believes Memo brings bad luck, since he thinks her involvement with another ballplayer, Bump Bailey (Michael Madsen), turned him into an under-performer. We later find out that Bump, too, is on the take to sink the Knights, his first name implying he is a hindrance on the road to success.

Pop finally gives Roy a shot at batting practice, and Roy hits the ball out of the park a number of times. We can see Pop is starting to warm up to him when he starts calling Roy by his first name. Pop takes Bump out of a game when the right fielder misses a fly ball on purpose. Bump says he lost it in the sun on this cloudy day, prompting Pop to look up at the sky and say, “blinding.” Pop sends Roy to bat, and tells him, in exaggerated baseball lingo, to “knock the cover off of the ball.” The gods speak in the form of lightning in the sky again, and Roy literally does knock the cover off of the baseball. Gus is in the stands with Memo when it starts to storm, the downpour implying that Roy’s heroics will be raining on Gus’ parade. The amazing hit puts Roy on the major league baseball map. Max Mercy approaches him. Roy remembers Max from the Whammer episode, but Max can’t place Roy after all of these years. Roy is secretive about his past because he doesn’t want the incident with Harriet brought up as a scandal. In his column, though, since Max is in league with The Judge, he accuses Roy of using a “loaded” bat. Wonderboy passes the size and weight test, though.

Pop threatens Bump with replacing him with Roy, so Bump starts to field and hit better. In what is a bit of exaggerated contrivance, Bump gets eliminated because in an overzealous attempt at trying to catch a ball, he busts through an outfield fence and dies from the injury. Roy is now the right fielder and he goes on an amazing hitting streak. He shows up now on baseball cards and magazines. Iris now lives in Chicago, although she never gave up her farm, which shows she is still connected to her upstanding roots. She has had no contact with Roy after all of these years and she is surprised to hear talk of Wonderboy and Hobbs at the cafe she frequents. One of the players likes the lightning bolt on Wonderboy, and wears a patch with the image on the arm of his uniform. He starts to hit better at practice, and someone says it’s like “Samson with the hair,” another reference to divine intervention. Eventually all of the players wear the lightning bolt insignia, which indicates how Roy’s heroics inspire the actions of others. The bat boy, Bobby Savoy (George Wilkosz), admires Wonderboy, and Roy promises to help the youngster make a bat of his own. In this way, Roy rediscovers the idealism of his youth, but also now acts as a father figure himself, playing the role of his dad forward. We see Roy in newsreels talking to young boys and a girl, as he appears as a positive role model. Levinson uses black and white footage in the newsreels to lend authenticity to the time period of the film. But they also make the audience buy into the almost miraculous accomplishments of Roy because the rest of the story is grounded in reality.

The Judge summons Roy for a meeting. His office is very dark and Roy says it could use some light. The Judge says that as a boy he was afraid of the dark and now has taught himself to actually prefer darkness. The absence of light associated with The Judge here becomes a metaphor for his acceptance of treachery. He is so used to being deceptive that he knows different words for a lie such as “canard” and “prevarication.” His employment of unfamiliar words is devious in itself. He says to Roy that he can see The Judge in the dark, to which Roy replies, “Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t.” With these words Roy shows that he understands that there can be false appearances hiding evil below. He learned this lesson with Harriet Bird, but is still susceptible to the pretty exterior of Memo. In this meeting, however, he stands his moral ground, and refuses to be bought by The Judge to undermine Pop and the team. (The Judge could remind one of the Wall Street men who made money by betting against their own organizations to prosper, bringing on the recession in 2008). When Roy leaves the office he turns on the lights, symbolically revealing the true unsavory nature of The Judge. The Judge says “Turn off that infernal light!” “Infernal” is the adjective for “inferno” which stands for “hell.” For a fallen soul such as The Judge, heavenly light is an enemy, as sunlight is to a vampire. Gus now appears out of the darkness of the room, like a demon, saying they will have to get Roy to comply with their demands through other methods than greed. That means using Memo.

Max is at a batting practice and observes Roy, who, after being encouraged by other players, pitches a ball so fast that it embeds itself in the netting of the batting cage. The camera points back at the seat where Max sat, which is now empty. We now know Max remembers his first encounter with Roy and The Whammer. Max confronts Roy with the recollection and convinces him to meet with him to give the reporter his story. They meet at dinner, but Roy is surprised to see others present. Memo is there, and Max introduces Roy to Gus. The bookie says he lost money betting against Roy’s performance. Gus always seems to bet against actions, showing an acceptance of the failure of human beings, and a desire to exploit it. This fact identifies him as an antagonist, a person who tries to stop the protagonist from reaching his goal. Max urges Gus to demonstrate his “magic eye” that he uses to see the outcome of his bets. Gus then covers one eye with the other bulging out. He looks like a monster, similar to the cyclops in The Odyssey, a creature who also tried to stop a mythic figure from getting to his home. He bets Roy that he has within a dollar only ten bucks in his pocket. It looks like he has won the bet, and Gus says to Roy forget about paying him, and says maybe Roy will do him a favor in the future instead. But Roy recognizes Gus’ scheme, and says, appropriately given the wager, “Don’t bet on it.” He then does a slight of hand and appears to pull silver coins out of Memo’s hair, showing that he actually did win the bet. This scene shows how Roy’s benevolent magic can defeat Gus’ evil powers.
Roy dances with Memo and she seduces him with her feminine charms. While in bed while he is sleeping she touches his shoulder where the bullet left a scar. Roy wakes up from a nightmare involving Harriet. This image shows how Memo is connected to the femme fatale persona. However, Roy is blind at this point to  seeing Memo’s power over him. Her debilitating effect on Roy, like kryptonite on Superman, causes him to go into a prolonged hitting slump, and the team falters. Levinson presents us with the image of a photographer’s light bulb slowly burning out, telling us that Roy’s fame is fading, and his allegiance to the forces of goodness are diminishing. Memo is actually caught between two worlds, one represented by Roy, and the other consisting of Gus, The Judge, and Max. She wanted Roy to win the bet with Gus, and has true feelings for him. But she has sold her soul to the devil, in this case, Gus, who provided for her when she was down and out.
Iris has followed Roy’s failing performance and goes to a game when the Knights come to Chicago. She wears white and stands up as Roy is about to strike out. The sun illuminates her hat, and it looks like a halo. Her guardian angel influence (she too exerts magic) brings the light of benevolence back to Roy, who feels it as he holds and looks at Wonderboy. It’s as if the bat is a lightning rod conducting heavenly power. He hits a ball so hard on the next pitch that it shatters the scoreboard clock. He has stopped the current downward timeline on which he has traveled and now can start a fresh, uplifting one. He gets a note from Iris to meet her at the soda shop. Their reunion is awkward. Roy says he hasn’t married, and Iris says, innocently, “How did the girls miss you.” Harriet didn’t “miss” with her gunshot, a demonic version of Cupid’s arrow. Roy doesn’t want to reveal what happened to him out of shame. He does convince Iris to attend the next game, where he hits four consecutive home runs. They walk after the game and he tells her the whole story about Harriet. He was in the hospital for two years, lost his confidence, and did various jobs before trying baseball again. They go to her apartment where Roy sees a boy’s baseball glove on the sofa. Iris says it belongs to her son. Roy at first is taken aback, but smiles when she says what a great kid he is. She says his father lives in New York, and unless you are dense, which apparently Roy is when it comes to women, you realize that it is his child. Iris says maybe her son needs his father now. Roy says, “Sure. A father makes all the difference,” as it did in his life. Iris realizes that Roy would leave the game to be with his son, so she says he has to leave to catch his train for the next game.

Roy is cold toward Memo on the phone, now that he has reconnected with the woman who is his moral compass. Memo, though, pretends for Gus’ sake to act like she still has “control” over Roy. The Knights stage a miraculous comeback, echoing the New York Giants of 1951, and need just one more game to win the pennant. Roy goes to a party at Memo’s new apartment. Gus is there and he again tries to bribe him to help the Knights lose. Gus says what guy wouldn't want to be in Roy’s shoes, having a girl like Memo. Roy utters a great line about Gus’ pushiness: “You’re standing awful close Gus. I can’t tell if it’s my toes I’m feeling, or yours.” After Roy walks away, Gus grabs hold of Memo and says to her that he doesn’t like being disappointed. She feeds Roy some food that turns out to contain some poison. Roy is rushed to the nearest hospital, which is a maternity medical facility (possibly indicating he needs to be reborn after his brush with death delivered by the fatal woman?). While he is unconscious for a few days, the Knights lost games, and can only win the pennant by winning a playoff game. The doctor says they pumped his digestive track and retrieved Harriet’s silver bullet, which has been deteriorating the lining of his stomach. The doctor says if he plays now his insides could explode, killing him on the spot.

Roy has visitors while hospitalized, all bringing different messages. The fellow ballplayers offer their good humor and support. Memo shows up, still trying to get Roy to quit so Gus will stake them to a lot of money, but she also shows that she has genuine feelings for Roy. He confesses his lack of insight to Iris in not seeing the trouble that Harriet would bring. Their conversation echoes the one earlier in the story between Roy and Harriet. He laments that he could have broken every record in the book. She uses Harriet’s line by saying, “And then?” He again says then people would say there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in the game. Roy still seems to harbour that destructive hubris. Iris tempers his pride by saying that people live two lives, “The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.” She tells him despite not breaking records, he will be remembered for what he has accomplished and his inspiration will live on in the hope he has given to scores of young people. He moves away from his own fame and sees the bigger picture when he says, “I love baseball.” She is about to tell him about his son, but they are interrupted by a nurse. The Judge visits him at night (in the dark, of course) and tries to bribe him one last time, dropping $20,000 on his bed to make sure that if he does play, he will fail to hit a ball safely. Max has also dug up the news story about Roy and Harriet, and The Judge threatens to expose the information as a scandal. He also hints that he has another “key” player that he has swayed to help insure a loss. Once the decay of morality and optimism takes hold, it can easily spread.

Roy shows up at The Judge’s office, where he is accompanied by his co-conspirators, Gus and Memo. Good dialogue ensues. Gus says to Roy that he seems lost. Roy accurately says, “I’m not.” He is on the righteous path, as is affirmed when The Judge says he was relying on his honor, and Roy says “you’re about to.” When asked what are his intentions, Roy says “to hit away,” showing he is going to use whatever strength he has to defeat their plans. The Judge again threatens to reveal Roy’s past, but Roy doesn’t care about what people think about him anymore, putting the hopes of others ahead of his own pride. Gus says they won’t use the story because he likes the “action” of the gamble. Memo grabs a gun and fires it in her frustration with Roy. He disarms her, showing he now recognizes her danger by saying she was right, “we have met before,” since she is like Harriet. Gus then basically repeats to Roy what his father told him, that he has a gift, but it’s not enough. But, unlike Roy’s dad, Gus offers no encouragement to use the gift wisely, and only labels Roy, “a loser.”
Roy goes to the team locker room and hears Pop say if he wins the pennant he will walk away from baseball and buy a farm, basically mirroring Roy’s journey to survive the corruption of the world and return to a pastoral home. Roy praises farm life, where it’s great to be around the greenest (implying innocent and unspoiled) things you’d ever see. Pop says Roy is the greatest hitter he ever saw, so he should “suit up.” Roy struggles in the game, but Iris gets a message to him that his son is in the crowd. At his last at bat he hits a foul ball that shatters the glass in front of Max’s news booth, showering divine wrath on the compromised reporter. Another foul ball breaks Wonderboy. Bobby gives Roy the bat they made together, the Savoy Special. This bat symbolizes a return to the hope and potential that Roy had as a youth. But he must face a young farm boy left-handed pitcher with a powerful fast ball. In a way, the opposing pitcher represents the future that Roy forfeited, and Roy must find redemption by triumphing despite his past mistakes.

When Roy hits the next pitch, it sounds like a cannon going off and the subsequent fireworks that occur as the ball destroys the stadium’s lights show how Roy has destroyed the dark plot of The Judge, Gus, Memo, and Max. We see the ball traveling through the sky and it turns into one that Roy throws to his son as they play catch back in the fields of the farm, with Iris standing next to them, in her role as guardian angel. The hero, like Odysseus, has faced his challenges and has returned home.
For the holidays, I will post a few comments om films I liked this past year.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Man Who Wasn't There

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

The Coen brothers made this 2001 movie in the tradition of other film noir movies. It is set in 1949 to point to a time when Hollywood produced stories in this genre. It contains certain elements that fit these types of stories, including a seedy view of humanity with people caught in a web of deceit and criminal activity, filmed in atmospheric black and white. But this motion picture also contains elements of existential philosophy which allows it to reflect on the human predicament.

The main character is Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton). As he readily admits, he is “the barber,” (which would have been another good title for this film). The first shot in the movie is that of a barber pole, spinning its red and white stripes repeatedly, with no final purpose achieved.  In a way, that Sisyphus activity mirrors the lives of the characters. In existential philosophy, a person is in “bad faith” if he or she defines oneself as something external, because it denies the subjective, self-reflecting complexity of the human individual. In the film, for the most part, people don’t remember Ed’s name. If they remember him at all they only know him as “the barber.” That is why to others, as an individual, he is the man who wasn’t there.

The storytelling irony here is that Ed hardly ever speaks outwardly, but the whole tale is told by him, solely from his point of view, in a voice-over (we later find out that a magazine paid him to tell his story), which actually reveals through his observations that he is more than just his job. But his lack of engagement with others, his lack of surface emotion, makes him look like a sleepwalker, which emphasizes Ed’s alienation, his outsider status in society. Since we are restricted to identify with Ed through his narration, the audience, feels set apart from the rest of Ed’s world, too. His taciturn personality is highlighted by the fact that the other men he associates with, co-worker, Frank (Michael Badalucco), Big Dave Brewster (James Gandolfini), Creighton Tolliver (Jon Polito), and lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (Tony Shalhoub) seem to never shut up. (Even the replacement barber Ed hires later in the movie talks all day long). Ed’s blank, glum appearance is indicative of the pessimistic, negative world in which he lives.
That doomed, helpless outlook shows up in various ways. Frank, reading the news, says the Russians exploded an atomic bomb, and “we can’t do a thing about it.” Ed, talking about where he lives, says his home is a bungalow, which has basic appliances, like a garbage disposal. After the description, he comments, “Guess you could say I had it made.” It is a sad assessment of what the working class is supposed to be satisfied with. The first shot of Ed’s wife, Doris (Frances McDormand), shows her checking out how she looks in her undergarments. Her make-up is important to her. In an interview, McDormand said that Doris, who is from a peasant Italian background, wanted to have glamour in her life, but with time, that hope faded. She finds solace in her appearance and her job as an accountant at the Nirdlinger department store, the place which sells glamorous things. She also relishes in the attention paid to her by Big Dave, her boss. He likes to tell stories about his heroic actions in the war, which contrasts with Doris’ boring life, and which makes Big Dave an appealing character to her. Ed says that he and Doris go to church each week, which sounds like maybe they at least have religion to provide an uplifting feeling. But he quickly follows up by saying that they attend the weekly bingo game. He says Doris didn’t believe in life-everlasting, and that bingo was the height of existence. Life here is cynical and uninspired.

Ed doesn’t even find bingo enjoyable. He doesn’t feel the need to “entertain” guests, though Doris still invites Big Dave and his wide-eyed wife, Ann (Katherine Borowitz) to dinner. (Despite Big Dave’s big talk, he runs the store because it is owned by his wife’s family, so he hasn’t really achieved his position on his own). The way that Doris pays attention to Big Dave, the way she laughs at his jokes, makes Ed suspect that the two are having an affair. But Ed is so detached from life that the infidelity doesn’t phase him, as he says, “It’s a free country.” Ed is a passive individual. He became a barber by “marrying” into the job. Frank is Doris’ brother and owns the barbershop. However, when Tolliver walks in as a customer, and talks about looking for an investor (after someone locally pulled out of the deal) in a new invention, “dry cleaning,” Ed’s first response is that the man is probably running a scam, but this time he questions that maybe his negative attitude toward life has relegated him to just being “the barber.” He contemplates changing from being passive to becoming proactive.
We then have a scene where Doris sits in a tub, self-absorbed in reading a magazine. She doesn’t even look at Ed, but asks him to shave her legs. He dutifully does so, and this grooming act is as close to intimacy that occurs between these two, with Ed having to do the barber job even in his own home. While still reading, Doris says without feeling, “love you,” as if uttering an obligatory afterthought of thanks. Perhaps Ed then goes to Tolliver after realizing how unrewarding life is for him after this episode. Tolliver doesn’t even recognize Ed without his smock, which again shows Ed’s sole identification is that of being a barber. Ed at first doesn’t trust Tolliver because in his world one is suspicious of anything being positive. Ed initially sees the wig-wearing, salesman personality of Tolliver as a possible swindler. But Tollier is legitimate, and offers a fifty/fifty split of the profits with Ed, who needs to get $10,000 dollars to invest. Tolliver in contrast to Ed and Doris, is an optimist, and says when one door closes (the man who declined the investment) another door opens, in the person of Ed. As we see later, this positive attitude is punished, not rewarded in this environment. It is appropriate that Ed will be a “silent partner,” given his quiet nature. Ed’s plan is to monetarily exploit his own wife’s affair by anonymously blackmailing Big Dave and getting him to pay the ten grand.

We then get a scene with Ed and Frank in the barbershop, and Ed seemingly talking nonsense about hair. Ed observes how the hair just keeps growing and they have to keep cutting it. His statement reminds us of the barber pole’s repetitive movement with no end purpose. He is voicing an existential view of the absurdity of life, which he finds unsavory. That is why he says he wants to mix the cut hair with dirt, showing his disgust with his perception of his life as being part of the pointless cyclical nature of existence.
Doris drags Ed to an after-hours party at the store where she works. Big Dave takes him aside and confesses his plight to Ed. Big Dave was the one who pulled out of Tolliver’s deal, and he believes that the dry cleaning entrepreneur is the blackmailer, since the blackmail note asks for the same amount that Tolliver wanted for the investment. Big Dave figures Tolliver saw him with the woman he was carrying on with at the hotel where Tolliver was staying. Of course, Big Dave doesn’t admit that it is Doris he was with. Supposed war hero Big Dave shows he is not really the courageous guy to look up to, and his pathetic crying in this scene adds to the negative outlook presented in the film. The scene also demonstrates that Ed’s deceitful action has negative domino-like repercussions, since Big Dave won’t be able to open up the new store with Doris in charge, and Big Dave’s wife, Ann, will be hurt if her husband’s cheating is exposed. He will lose everything, since it is his wife’s store that employs him.
The next scene is a fitting contrast to what has just happened. Ed comes across a teenage girl, whose nickname is Birdie (Scarlett Johansson), playing classical music on a store piano. Ed is drawn to her talent. She, unlike others, remembers his name, seeing him as an individual. For Ed, she represents the hope for the future that innocent youth might be capable of, and which contrasts with the adult sordid, depressing existence in which Ed finds himself inhabiting. Her name implies that she could soar above those hopeless individuals that populate Ed’s world, including Ed himself. It’s possible that her nickname could awaken Ed’s own ability to fly, represented by his last name, Crane, so that he could rise above everyday dreariness.

After Big Dave leaves the money at a drop, Ed seals the deal by signing Tolliver’s business papers. After Ed and Doris attend an Italian wedding on a farm, Doris is reminded of how little she has distanced herself from her unglamorous upbringing and gets drunk. Her negativity about life is expressed when she is sarcastic to the young married couple, saying, “Life is so goddamn wonderful you almost won’t believe it. It’s a bowl of goddamn cherries.” After returning home, Ed, watching his wife sleep it off, recounts how the two met on a blind double date. Even then she drank too much, probably trying to find escape from a unfulfilling life. She liked it that Ed didn’t talk much, and said after only two weeks that they get married. Ed suggested that maybe they might want to get to know more about each other first. Doris’ response was, “Why? Does it get better?” Her answer reinforces the unhappiness and lack of hope in her world.

In the middle of this story, Ed gets a call from Big Dave to meet him at his office in the store. It is late and they are the only two there. After Big Dave paid the blackmail money, he then decided to confront Tolliver when he started to suspect he was the person extorting him. He beat him until Tolliver told Big Dave that he got his money from Ed and wasn’t a blackmailer. Now Big Dave realizes that Ed knows about the affair with Doris and that Ed is ruining their lives for the dry cleaning opportunity. Big Dave attacks Ed, who is able to grab a letter opener in the struggle. He stabs Big Dave in the neck and Big Dave bleeds to death. Ed leaves and returns home, and unemotionally, finishes his story about how he and Doris met and were married. His lack of feelings even after causing the death of another person show how removed he is from life,.

Policemen come to the barbershop and Ed assumes they are there to arrest him, and he seems, again, to be passive and ready to meet his fate. However, the cops tell him that it is his wife who has been arrested for murder. She was cooking the books for Big Dave so he could embezzle funds and the authorities believe she killed him to cover up her complicity. Ed goes to Birdie’s father, the local lawyer, Walter Abundas (Richard Jenkins), for help. Walter admits to his incompetence and recommends another lawyer. Walter, like Doris, drinks too much, and spends hours doing genealogy research, his two forms of escape from the dreariness of his life. For Ed, his escape into a sense of peace occurs when he listens to Birdie’s music.
Ed visits Doris in jail. She has a black eye which shows the damage the incarceration is inflicting on her. He brings her makeup, which shows how Ed understands her need to hang onto her desire for “glamour,” which is almost impossible, given the circumstances. Because Ed does not admit his guilt in the death of Big Dave, he stops Doris from admitting her infidelity. In his mind maybe he thinks they’re even. After Frank mortgages the barbershop to pay for legal costs (another example of negative results resulting from wrong choices), Ed hires the accomplished lawyer that Walter recommends, Freddy Riedenschneider (a name that appears in The Asphalt Jungle, a Coen Brothers tip to the film noir genre). The movie presents a rather negative view of attorneys with this character. Freddy eats like a glutton at the best restaurant in town (symbolizing how he drains his clients), and stays in the most expensive room at the best hotel. He tells Ed he will be charging him tons of fees, including the cost of a private investigator. Freddy, as was said earlier, does all of the talking, and is condescending. He says to Ed, “I do the talking. You keep your trap shut. I’m an attorney. You’re a barber. You don’t know anything.” Ed once more is defined by his job, what the external world reduces him to.
Ed now finds himself even more alienated from life as he says, while watching people on the streets walking, that the recent events make him feel like he has “made it to the outside.” Big Dave’s wife, Ann, visits him, her eyes wider than ever, and tells Ed that she knows that Doris didn’t kill her husband. She relates this wild story about how, during a camping trip, Big Dave was abducted by aliens. She thinks his death is part of some type of government-extraterrestrial conspiracy. Life has become so absurd that people look for some type of explanation to bring meaning to existence, no matter how far-fetched, so as not to face the possibility that life may not have any absolute purpose.
Riedenschneider is not interested in truth. He just is concerned with strategy. He doesn’t care if Doris killed Big Dave, only that she didn’t confess to anything. In a meeting with the lawyer and Doris, Ed finally confesses to save Doris. But, the lawyer says that doesn’t work because there are no witnesses to back up his story of killing Big Dave, and it just looks like Ed is sacrificing himself for his wife. Ed tries to find Tolliver to back up his claims, but the man is missing. Riedenschneider, in another meeting, has a different plan, and it is an existential one. He references the scientific “Uncertainty Principle” (proposed by Werner Heisenberg) which says that just by observing something, you change it’s reality. He says, “the more you look, the less you really know. It’s a fact, a true fact. In a way, it’s the only fact there is.” The lawyer’s private detective found out that Big Dave was an office clerk during the war, so he was a phony when holding himself out to the community as a war hero. The argument here is, the more you look at something, more doubt presents itself. For Riedenschneider, that translates to “reasonable doubt.” He argues that someone who knew of Big Dave’s service record may have been blackmailing him. Who that person may be can’t be known, because nothing that is scrutinized can ever reveal the whole truth. He presents a world that is without understanding, which is as noir as film can get. The trial never takes place, because Doris takes her own life. Ed later finds out from a cop that Doris was pregnant with Big Dave’s child. Perhaps that fact and how far her life had turned for the worse brought her to suicide (like I said - not a happy world we have here.)
Ed says he was now “like a ghost,” the man who isn’t there. His reality as a person is vanishing, and that is why he says of himself that his only existence was tied to the fact that he “was the barber.” He, like Ann, looks for answers somewhere.  He reads about UFO’s, and goes to a medium, who he realizes is a phony, which just reinforces his pessimism about living. After a music competition, he sees Birdie with a young boy, and Ed is intimidating toward the youth. It’s as if he wants to keep Birdie pure, untainted by growing up, which would include sexual experiences, so that he could save her from another life “going down the drain.” He takes Birdie to a musical expert, but this man dashes Ed’s hopes, saying that Birdie is a nice girl, but ordinary, and might make a good “typist.” On the drive home, Ed can’t face more mediocrity, and says the music teacher is wrong. But, he has projected onto Birdie his own hope. The girl admits that she really has no ambition to become a pianist. She is very grateful to Ed, and proceeds to try to thank him by performing oral sex on him. Her fall from grace in Ed’s eyes surprises and literally damages him as he gets into a car accident.
Birdie sustains a broken collar bone. While unconscious in the hospital, Ed remembers an episode with Doris dismissing a salesman and looking at Ed with disappointment because Ed didn’t get rid of the man. They sit on their couch and say nothing. Even Ed’s memories are disappointing. Ed wakes up to discover he is being arrested for killing Tolliver. The submerged car with Tolliver inside was discovered by a young boy who was swimming. The business documents that Ed signed were with Tolliver. The police think that Tolliver found out that Doris stole money for the deal, and Ed killed him to silence the man. Ed knows from Big Dave’s confession that he beat Tolliver, and so he was the one who killed Tolliver and dumped the body.

Ed mortgages his house and hires Riedenschneider to defend him, at least until the money runs out, and then so does the lawyer. But while being Ed’s attorney, he offers more existential arguments about the unknowability of life. Ed says his attorney told the jurors, “to look not at the facts, but at the meaning of the facts. The he said the facts had no meaning.” He argues that Ed was no murderer, because he was too “ordinary” to commit such an act. He was just a barber. And being ordinary, he was “modern man,” like the jurists, and they would, in a sense, be finding themselves guilty. He paints a bleak picture of existence. But Frank interrupts the proceedings with an impassioned anger against Ed for bringing about the death of his sister. There is a mistrial, and with Riedenschneider now gone, a judge, who has no compassion for Ed’s situation, sentences him to death. The legal system obviously is a failure here: Doris kills herself and her unborn child after being imprisoned for a crime she did not commit; Ed is sentenced to death for killing the wrong man.
Just before his execution, Ed is now in the chair instead of a customer, and someone is shaving him instead, to inject lethal drugs. It appears that he can’t escape the barber scenario while in this world. Knowing that he is about to die, Ed now feels completely free in a way from the ties that bind people to everyday life. He lives up to his name as a “crane” flying above it all, gaining a larger perspective. He says, “It’s like pulling away from the maze. While you’re in the maze, you go through willy nilly, turning where you think you have to turn, banging into the dead ends.” But seeing it whole gives him some peace.” He also says that in death, “Maybe the things I don’t understand will be clearer there, like when a fog blows away.” For some of those who try to find ultimate meaning while alive in this world, life may only offer a limited view of the road ahead.

The next film is The Natural.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

Given the current revelations about sexual assault and harassment occurring in the world of show business and politics, I decided to analyze this 1987 film which explores warped male actions toward a woman and by doing so reveals a great deal about how many men perceive females.
Martin Ritt was a good choice to direct this motion picture since he explored female empowerment in Norma Rae. This story opens with women herded like cattle in jail cells awaiting arraignment. They are literally incarcerated, but they are also symbolically imprisoned by men for not playing the female roles that men have delineated for them. That digressing from the outwardly appropriate norms of behavior particularly fits the main character, Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand). She is a high-priced call girl who has been arrested for the first degree manslaughter of one of her clients. As she is led to the courtroom, the male prisoners yell out suggestive remarks, and we see Claudia recalling how she had a visual sexual assessment when she walked through a classy restaurant. The two views show how men, no matter the social situation, universally treat women in a sexually demeaning fashion.
We get a hint of Claudia’s problems with her parents when she demands that the court address her by using her married name, Draper. She is aggressive vocally and argumentative, interrupting preliminary court proceedings and questioning the actions of the expensive lawyer hired by her mother, Rose (Maureen Stapleton) and her stepfather, Arthur Kirk (Karl Malden). The judge and the lawyers ignore her as if she is not to speak unless spoken to. The prosecutor says that the psychiatrist gave the opinion that Claudia is incompetent to stand trial because she doesn’t understand the charges against her and can’t participate in her own defense. What the male-dominated system is doing is preventing her from having her day in court. She does not behave in the proper demure and submissive fashion dictated by the men in charge. Thus, they must remove her from society. She could have continued to perform as a prostitute as long as it wasn’t brought to the attention of polite society. But, as soon as she attacked a male, who was abusive toward her, the situation is brought into the light of day, and the ruling males must then punish her for revealing harmful male tendencies.
Because Claudia would not agree to a charge of criminally negligent homicide, her lawyer argues that she should be considered incompetent. The irony here is that the family and the lawyers appear to want to protect Claudia from having to go to prison. In their minds they are acting in her best interests, but they do so by presupposing that she is not innocent of the crime of which she is accused, but instead proposing that she is mentally unstable. They assume that her lifestyle and nonconformist behavior requires the need to separate her from other “normal” people. Claudia’s response is to punch out her defense attorney.
A public defender by the name of Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss) happens to be in court during Claudia’s arraignment. He doesn’t want to have anything initially to do with the case after the assaulted defense lawyer quits. But the judge assigns him to Claudia’s case. After a quick review of the records, and because the judge bullied him into taking the job, he decides to challenge the motion to designate Claudia as incompetent to be tried. On his way to question Claudia at the jail, we see colored lines painted on the floor informing people where to get to different locations. It may appear helpful, but it also shows the linear, regimented thinking of how the established authority enforces control over others. Levinsky runs into the state appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Morrison (Eli Wallach), and verifies that Morrison said in his report that Claudia acted “flagrantly sexual.” This phrase condemns Claudia for breaking the rules that men have established about how a woman should act publicly when it comes to sex. This attitude is affirmed by the Latino psychiatrist who says that Claudia is passionate, which is okay in the bedroom, but not outside of it.
In Levinsky’s first meeting with Claudia, she shows contempt for psychiatrists (although Streisand plays an admirable one in The Prince of Tides). She is initially quiet, but when Levinsky asks if she can talk, she says what role does she want her to play. Should she juggle, dance, do card tricks? She says, “What kind of show do I have to put on for you?” Her statement points to the way men force women to play the roles they dictate for them, as opposed to trying to understand the person behind these fronts. She is basically saying that the traditional expectation of men is to have women amuse and entertain them, which denies who they are as complete persons, with their own personalities and aspirations. Claudia immediately delves into Levinsky’s personal life, asking about being married and if his wife is good in bed. She puts her legs up on the table in front of him and spreads them. In a way, she is exaggerating what men expect of women sexually, and is testing Levinsky to see how he will react. He admits to his sexual inclinations and is not like Morrison, who Claudia sees as sexually inauthentic. Levinsky is honest in his responses about how his marriage has had its problems. Claudia wants to expose how the upright appearances of men are deceiving, because under the veneer of respectability lies the selfish need to objectify and possess women to satisfy lustful urges no matter the damage done to the females they desire. Her argumentative ways and in-your-face- sexual references make the audience uncomfortable, which in a way, indicts the viewer for having accepted the male prescribed norms of how women should behave.
When Levinsky mentions that her mother cares about what happens to her, Claudia curses her mother. We again get an indication that there was something in Claudia’s upbringing that points to Claudia not believing Rose is the motherly protector she seems to be. Despite Claudia’s wanting to put everything out in the open, she is not ready to reveal the secrets about the harm done to her in her childhood. She does win Levinsky over as he concedes the possibility that the psychiatric impression that she is incompetent is wrong. She is then willing to go over her case with him. In a subsequent conversation with the prosecuting attorney, MacMillan (Robert Webber), Levinsky says that he has an aunt who is crazier than Claudia, and she is the president of her PTA. Levinsky is acknowledging Claudia’s argument that supposedly proper behavior can be deceiving. A later scene in the psychiatric ward makes this point as Levinsky is fooled by a woman who is a patient, but who pretends to be a visiting psychoanalyst, and who is more insightful than the “legitimate” psychiatrists. Levinsky says the woman seemed so “normal.” Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Shawshank Redemption, here again we have the inmates making more sense than those in charge. Thus the title of the film may be asking who are the people who are really “nuts.”

We get a scene which reveals Dr. Morrison’s phony pretense of wanting to help Claudia. In a session with her he says that she needs treatment because everyone has impulses, but that society requires that the individual control them. “Control” is the operative word here. His putting her in restraints at various times and sedating her is symbolic of the male urge for domination over the female. At no time does he really try to understand Claudia as an individual with a problematic history. He just wants her to comply with what he sees as the proper female pattern of behavior. She is flirtatious with him in order to try to get him to admit his repression of carnal impulses which surfaces as vindictiveness toward an overtly sexual woman. He says he wants to put “order” in her life, but she says that there is no order in life. She essentially believes that disorder is the norm and people try to impose order on the world. Some overcompensate out of a fear of chaos with that urge to control others (like the character of Beth in Ordinary People?). Claudia suggests that Dr. Morrison is one of those zealous control freaks, and may be why he works in a prison, the idea of putting people in cells being particularly appealing to him.

Levinsky’s visit to Claudia’s apartment is revealing. He sees pictures of her mother, which shows she has not totally written her parent off. She has many books, which indicates her intellectual side. There is also a stuffed animal, implying that she retains a childlike quality, and maybe the wish to recreate a better childhood. There is also a Jack-in-a-box toy, which suggests Claudia’s penchant to surprise others with her blunt nature to upset the status quo, but which shows that there may be a vulnerable, youthful side to her inside. Levinsky goes through her clothing to pick out an outfit for Claudia’s court appearance. He has not asked her permission to go through her things, especially her underwear, and in this way, he is acting like a controlling male. She is angry at him for his transgression. He realizes his mistake, and has the decency to apologize.

Levinsky’s impropriety triggers the memory of the man she killed, Allen Green (Leslie Nielsen), and we get the story of why Claudia was arrested. Allen, who appeared to be upstanding, goes through her clothes, acting as if he owns Claudia because he has purchased her sexual services. He wants to stay after having sex and becomes angry and possessive when she has another appointment. He then is verbally abusive, and says she is acting like his wife. He displays the dual attitudes many men have toward women. On the one hand they want females to act socially respectable in public, as a wife is supposed to appear, but they secretly want them to surrender to masculine sexual manipulation. However, they then condemn them for acting slutty. Allen, like many other men, have created the prostitution business to indulge their sexual fantasies, but are ashamed of their unholy drives, and then project their guilt on the women they sought to indulge them. When Claudia resists Allen, he becomes violent, trying to exert his controlling power, and is angry at being rejected. He tries to strangle Claudia, and in the struggle, the bathroom mirror is broken. Claudia is able to grab a shard, and stabs Allen in the carotid area, killing him (possibly an act of vengeful reverse penetration?).

Claudia’s mother testifies that her husband left them and she married Arthur Kirk around the time that Claudia was five years old. Claudia began to exhibit rebellious behavior, including cutting her hair off (to make herself appear less attractive?), but also being promiscuous. Claudia also stopped wanting to kiss or touch her mother. So, she showed conflicting feelings about wanting affection. Claudia, trying to protect her mother despite her anger toward her, denies Levinsky the chance to question her. When her stepfather takes the stand, he acts like he tried to help the young Claudia get over her fear and vulnerability after being abandoned by her father. He says he tried to reward good behavior by giving her money. Thus we see how little girls are trained to get rewards by acting the way the male role model expects. While Kirk is on the stand, Levinsky sees Claudia making illustrations of people who have no mouths. He quietly says the words “speak no evil.” He knows that despite Claudia’s frankness, she and her family are hiding something. He asks Kirk that if he was what he called himself, Claudia’s “champion,” why did she exhibit what Kirk would consider to be abnormal behavior. Kirk can’t explain it, since he always doted on her, including giving Claudia baths. Levinsky now sees what is going on and presses Kirk on this behavior, and the stepfather becomes very defensive when Levinsky wants to know at what age did the bathing stop. Claudia finally blurts out that it went on until she was sixteen years old. We get flashbacks of young Claudia in the tub showing anxiety as the bathroom door handle turns. Kirk would slip money under the door to let him in. We now see how she was abused as a youth and that the money for sexual favors primed Claudia for a career as a prostitute. Rose says she didn’t know, but Claudia says, “No, you didn’t want to know.” Her mother’s self-denial allowed the abuse because she would not face the ugliness of her husband’s aberration.
Claudia, when she takes the stand, says that women legally prostitute themselves all the time. She knows women who married rich men they disliked so they could drive Mercedes cars. Even though she doesn’t admit it, her mother, Rose, may have married the well-to-do Kirk for financial security. At least Claudia is honest about what she does, and she lists how much she is paid for her sexual acts, making the prosecutor embarrassed, but also intrigued as he does not interrupt her. Claudia thus reveals the hypocrisy of male behavior. Claudia later tells Levinsky that she didn’t stop her stepfather because as a girl she just wanted to be loved. Levinsky tells Claudia not to blame herself. The implication is that all children are vulnerable because they want to be loved.

Levinsky angrily confronts Dr. Morrison who has drugged Claudia because he says, falsely, that it is to calm her. In reality he is trying to undermine Claudia’s testimony by impairing her ability to show that she is competent to stand trial. However, Claudia is able to quote the law and argue that if she is not declared competent to have a trial then the authorities could keep her medically institutionalized indefinitely without her ever being allowed to be acquitted of the charges brought against her. The male condescension of the prosecutor is evident as he assumes he can call her Claudia, but she will have none of that, and insists that he address her as Mrs. Draper (she is divorced, her personality and her upbringing not being conducive to a successful marriage and family life. For example, she says she once had an abortion because “she didn’t believe in childhood.”). MacMillan tries to paint her as a paranoid by trying to get her to admit that there is a conspiracy against her. But Claudia is quite lucid as she says of Dr. Morrison, “I’m sure he believes what he believes. He thinks whores are girls who hang out on 8th Avenue and stick needles in their arms. He knows whores aren’t nice white girls from nice white families.” But women go off and have affairs all the time, while pretending to comply with their proper status as faithful wives in society. Her argument is that because she doesn’t fit into the prejudicial pattern of preconceived notions of which women are relegated to unacceptable female behavior that she must, of course, be a mentally deranged.

While the judge goes out to deliberate, Claudia’s mother shows true emotion and says that she hopes her daughter wins the case. Now when Rose says she loves her daughter, Claudia can see that it is not just a phrase that people say for appearance sake. They are able to hug and show genuine feelings for each other.

The judge, Stanley Murdoch (James Whitmore), is convinced that Claudia understands the charges against her and can participate in her own defense. She is set free until the trial. The last shot is of her walking freely in the streets among the other citizens. She sees one man who has obvious mental problems as he looks up into the sky, talking to himself. The shot stresses the unfairness of a society that would let obviously mentally ill people on the street, but would question a woman’s sanity because she does not conform to the imposed male rules about sexual behavior.

The next film is The Man Who Wasn’t There.