The Way We Were (Sydney Pollack, 1973)
Category: Sad star-crossed lovers film. This is a classic genre. From Romeo and Juliet to Gnomeo and Juliet, people from different backgrounds have been trying to get together, with mixed results. Often the villain in these films is “society,” which is in some ways more difficult to fight than alien invaders from outer space. At least with alien invaders you can program a computer virus on their mothership that weakens their defenses, while the President of the United States leads an all-out worldwide fighter jet assault on the rest of their ships. With society, if some old lady sees you hanging out with the wrong person even ONCE, then that is all anyone will talk about for the rest of your life. Welcome to Earth.
I am told this is also a sad movie about the blacklist (the one in the 50s with the Communists, not the one at Hop Sing’s). This was a tough period for suspected Communists, actual Communists, and people with glasses. The search for Communist sympathizers in Hollywood seems now to be one of the most frivolous enterprises that the United States government has undertaken in its history, one that destroyed the livelihoods and reputations of hundreds of people. Seriously though, who gives a crap if Hollywood writers and actors are Communists? They could be fascist anarchists; it still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. I am all about the references today. (PS the other movie in this category worth noting is The Front, with Zero Mostel and Woody Allen. Quite a film.)
My familiarity with this issue: The lovers in this film come from very different backgrounds: she a Marxist Jew, he a carefree WASP. I am neither of these, although I’m far closer to one than the other. Nor has the universe ever conspired to keep me apart from someone, unless you define “the universe” as “the haters.” (Try as you might, they gon’ hate.)
They say that opposites attract, and I think that’s a nice idea, although I don’t know how true it is. I think a lot of people don’t really want to know about other kinds of people aside from themselves, and choose their mates accordingly. And of course, other people like challenging themselves when it comes to partners. Although I don't care how Jewy you are, Robert Redford is not a "challenge."
I’ve read a fair amount about the blacklist, one of those ridiculous things, like segregation, that’s all the scarier for how recently it occurred. The fact that the government painstakingly researched people’s pasts, who they’d associated with, what organizations’ meetings they’d attended, etc., is a frightening thought, and an uncomfortable reminder of how precarious our civil liberties still are in this day and age. (Watch the tweets, everyone.) Luckily, my past is not terribly checkered. Whenever I attended meetings of the local Communist party, I always signed a fake name on the signup sheet. (I usually went with “Micah Lubens.”) And short of a youthful dalliance with Bill Ayers and the Weathermen, I’ve managed to avoid bombing any corporations in the past few years (although Lord knows I’ve been tempted). It’s a good thing no one reads this blog.
So obviously I’m not down with McCarthyism, but I do like that the guy got an –ism out of his own name. That’s rarefied air: off the top of my head I can think of Buddha, Darwin and, hilariously, Marx, Lenin and Mao who have done likewise. So let’s say mixed company. Hey here's an idea for all the FsOTB out there: please comment with suggestions on what the ideology of Krizelism might entail. I’m thinking something like very, very neurotic indignation. With a touch of diabetes.
Most importantly: I learned about this movie from my mom, as it is a personal favorite of hers. When I told her I was going to watch it for the blog, she said, and I quote: “If you badmouth this movie, you will be in trouble.” Duly noted.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Katie and Hubbell are students in the same college but with very different lives. She is a communist compromised against the civil war in Spain and the rise of Hitler in Europe, and has to work to pay her studies. He is more interested in sports and a sceptic about politics. However, Katie is impressed by his charm and she still is when they meet some years after.”
What I thought of the movie: I liked it! I actually, for real, liked it. It’s good not having to lie to your mom.
The movie follows Katie Morosky (no relation to FOTB Kate Meroski) and Hubbell Gardiner (no relation to imaginary FOTB WASPy McSeersucker) from their college days in the '30s to the blacklist days of the '50s. It is fairly romantical, and ultimately sad in a way that I didn’t really expect. I’ll explain in a minute. Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford are interesting and believable enough as the attracted opposites. What the movie does best of all, I think, is balance the dreamy and realistic aspects of the story, such that you are swept up in their love story (because of the swelling music and the boat rides in Central Park), but also understand the difficulties they face.
They meet in college, where she’s yelling about the Spanish Civil War and he’s looking effortlessly handsome. There’s a spark there that remains unconsummated until after World War II, when she puts him up in her apartment in a vaguely creepy series of scenes (for a while he’s just not that into her). But it ends with her winning him over and it’s fairly dreamy for a while. They get married and move to LA so he can pursue his writing career, and it gets potentially blacklist-y. Her history of yelling and Communism is thus troublesome, and her refusal to keep shtum about it causes marital issues. This is the star-crossedness I was talking about. Not exactly Montagues and Capulets, of course, but then again LA is no Verona.
(SPOILERS etc.) And so the sad aspect of the movie was not really what I’d expected. Maybe I’ve just watched too many of these and am now just conditioned to assume that every heroine in a romantic film is going to die, but I kind of thought that Kate was gonna get cancer at some point. That didn’t happen. Instead, the sad stuff is that he thoughtlessly cheats on her while she’s pregnant (a major no-no, in my book). So they break up, after she has his baby, and move on with their lives. And because it wasn’t too melodramatic, it worked. They had some good times, they remembered the way they were, but it just didn’t work out in the end. I’d imagine that’s enough to get a lot of people crying.
How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Usually I’ll decide which person I side with in a movie like this within like five minutes, but I found myself going back and forth in this one. On the one hand, I appreciate Kate Meroski’s verve and class warrior instincts, but on the other hand, I do like Robert Redford’s face. And also his desire to keep calm, carry on, and not yell at everyone who disagrees with you. Neither was perfect, and neither was always right. That doesn’t necessarily seem like a big deal, but a lot of movies aren’t good at depicting that.
I do really like movies that are set over two or three decades, partially because it’s fun to see older actors pretending they’re in college (like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, or ol’ craggy Redford playing young Roy Hobbs in The Natural), but also because it’s just cool to have a perspective that doesn’t exist with our own actual lives. (It’s why I enjoy the E! True Hollywood Story program so much.) It’s also a restricting way of doing things, of course; things that are much more complicated in real life get simplified or eliminated completely (in this film, for example, we don’t really know anything about the two main characters’ families). The reason I liked this movie as much as I did is that it plants the seeds early – from the time that Babs and Redford meet, we know what the problems are going to be, and no amount of effort from either of them will be able to eliminate those problems. That’s the real sad part.
How I felt after the movie ended: I was discussing the movie with FOTB and fan of the movie (FOTM) Allie Hagan, and she echoed something I’d thought was weird: he stays with her until she has the baby, and then just up and leaves! They meet again by chance years later, in an epilogue, and they’re both with new people, and he asks how the baby is. The baby who presumably has no idea who her actual father is. That’s weird. I guess it’s what people did back in those days, but jeez.
But otherwise, of course, I was a fan. It kind of reminded me of my favorite movie ever, Annie Hall. Of course no one thinks of Annie Hall as a sad movie, because it’s unbelievably funny. But it’s essentially the same plot (down to the fact that going to LA always ruins everything): two people get together, and then they break up. Thus far in this blog post I have referenced or compared The Way We Were to Independence Day, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Romeo and Juliet and now Annie Hall. A combination of which would probably be the greatest movie ever. And while this movie isn’t the greatest ever, I’m still more than willing to admit that, as always, my mom was right.