Friday, May 15, 2015

"Breakfast at Tiffany's": Boys Only Want Love If It's Torture

A quintessential work in the canon of anti-feminist cinema, Breakfast at Tiffanys openly ponders whether modern women and men can merely be best friends without the burden of binding commitment.

Like any film critic worth his salt, I finally got around to watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s a couple nights ago because the Library of Congress declared it’s one of those things we just have to watch for its historical or social significance, kind of like Taxi Driver or Alien or Close Encounters. I figured it was going to be a long night because registration for summer classes opened the next morning at 8 and I hadn’t risen before 10 in almost two weeks, so I cozied up with Netflix and called it a movie date with myself, as most of Netflix’s virgins viewers are liable to do in the absence of better company and things to do with their lives. Of all the things I could possibly watch on Netflix, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is far from the worst and I shouldn’t feel much of a social obligation to critique it with the abundance of crap that’s already been published about all its most superficial aspects, but maybe the prospect of adding something new to a conversation that’s been going on for 54 years is exactly what compels me to take up pen and offer my irrelevant opinion.

See, while I was watching Tiffany’s, I wasn’t thinking about the black dress that Audrey Hepburn was wearing or the sunglasses or the hat, though I suppose those were all fine and dandy, and I was doing my best to ignore the annoying song reused throughout the movie, though the scene of Audrey singing on the stairwell was admittedly a very smart time filler, there being nothing that turns a guy on more than a pretty girl with a guitar acoustic stringed instrument. I wasn’t watching it as a cute love story either, finding it more than a mite difficult to emotionally commit myself to a man and woman whose gullibility and deviousness so hideously and truly reflected the falseness I’ve observed in other people and, to an extent, in myself. Breakfast at Tiffany’s isn’t a happy movie, and if it’s a comedy it’s working in much the same capacity as Much Ado About Nothing, designed more to show us the makings of a fragile, “phony” relationship than the foundations of a really strong one.

For those of you who don’t already know the story, Audrey Hepburn is Holly Go-lightly, a talkative New York socialite, jewelry connoisseur, and gold-digging flirt who lives next to Paul Varjak, an Author who wishes he could subsist on the strength of his words alone but has to supplement his honest income by giving a wealthy woman favors, so to speak. But who is this Author to mock him for his private affairs? The dude is sort of dating Audrey Hepburn and all I’ve got to show are a bunch of vain fantasies, but we’ll get to that – the dating Hepburn part, not the fantasies. Everybody in the movie smokes exorbitantly, including the sweet lady Holly, who climbs through Paul’s window one night upon fleeing an aggressive date, grabs a joint, and hops right into bed with him, justifying her intrusion with the “We’re just friends, that’s all” canard. When Paul wakes her from a nightmare in which she’s talking to her brother Fred, she reprimands him for being a snoop without a note of sarcasm. Oh, women and their confusing ways.

Once they’ve built a bit of a rapport and can actually call themselves friends in good faith, it turns out that Holly isn’t really Holly and has come to the Big Apple to escape from a former marriage she entered at 13. Needless to say, this breach of trust impairs their friendship for a little while, but Paul is a stupid man in love and quickly warms back up to Holly despite all the mixed signals she’s sending.

The two go autograph Paul’s book at the library, they get a cheap cracker jack ring engraved at Tiffany’s, they steal some masks from a store, they kiss, they drink, they go to the strip club and wonder whether “she’s handsomely paid”. All these signs seem to point toward a blossoming romance, but they’re as fake as the distractingly long eyelashes Hepburn wears throughout the picture. Paul is really no different to Holly than “all her other rats and super-rats”, which is why she so swiftly and unrepentantly replaces him with a rich and famous Brazilian. An immature and non-committal “player”, Holly exemplifies all the most odious and fickle qualities of someone who shies from committed relationships, knowingly stringing the opposite sex along with pretenses of interest and doggedly insisting on inhabiting a fantastical sexless universe where grown people with mutual attraction, supporting personalities, and – dare I use the buzzword – natural chemistry can and should stay the closest of friends, but only friends, as if intimacy and friendship are irreconcilable concepts.

Up until the final kiss in the rain, Holly persists in torturing the best friend she’s ever known, expressing concern only for the stupid cat she threw out the window not five minutes earlier. One can debate whether she’s acting out of emotional confusion, embarrassment around Paul, or genuine compassion for Kitty, but the easiest explanation may be the truest: that Holly’s simply being a real b-ad word and intentionally withholding herself in fear that baring her romantic feelings somehow lessens her.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a quintessential anti-feminist movie in that it mounts an uncompromising attack on the attitude of free-spiritedness that pervades the ranks of feminist adherents. The movie leaves you free to disagree with him, but Paul basically articulates the theme of the film when he confronts Holly in the cab:
You’re chicken, you’ve got no guts. You’re afraid to stick out your chin and say, okay, life’s a fact, people do fall in love, people do belong to each other, because that’s the only chance anybody’s got for real happiness. You call yourself a free spirit, a wild thing, and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas, or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.

Holly’s flagrantly dishonest, aloof way of communicating with Paul and men in general derives from one of Feminism’s (and arguably Progressivism’s) primary tenets, that “people don’t belong to other people” and no individual really has any obligations in how he treats any other individual (though everybody has a duty to provide for the common good). Casual, meaningless sex or dating is “liberation”, while falling for another person or binding oneself to another in marriage everlasting is “enslavement”, a one-way commute to a cage that prohibits a woman from doing whatever or whomever she wants with her body.

But Breakfast at Tiffany’s isn’t solely a warning to women about the folly of cutting themselves off or sending false signals, as men are just as capable of forming erroneous and insincere relationships with women who bear much stronger attractions to them. This last year, I found myself frequently hanging around a guy and girl who seemed to have the tightest friendship possible to man; they would sit on the couch and chat the night away until 3 or 4 in the morning, talking about sexual trysts, the health benefits of pornography, and every other factually suspect taboo topic that could pique a horny teenager’s thought, but also about family troubles back home and the parenting ideals they would try to follow in the future. To the casual observer, they would seem for all intents and purposes to be a perfectly-met romantic couple, but after a short month of separation the guy got himself another girlfriend and I hardly ever saw the original pair again. Such is the tragic undoing of Paul and Holly’s nebulous, on-again, off-again friendship, and such a depressing waste of time is any friendship that languishes from unequal commitments or false communication from either party.

Holly Golightly isn’t the only one at fault, of course, and Paul Varjak is just as much a cautionary tale to men and Authors about the risks of falling passionately in love with an unsuitable woman based on her beauty or acoustic instrument playing ability. Mr. Varjak is probably the most relatable character to me that I’ve seen in a long time, but I think the movie is ultimately more critical of Holly and the flightiness of the relationships she forms than it is of the financially challenged, emotionally abused and manipulated writer.

There’s much more I could write about Breakfast at Tiffany’s – the stupidity of the slapstick gags in the party scene, the retrospective race-police reactions to Mickey Rooney’s ridiculous performance, the difference between this film’s depiction of drunkenness and much more flippant depictions in contemporary media – but I just watched The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman and that 60s classic blows this one away in every single technical department.

Suffice it to say that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a very unconventional romance, if one at all, with complex, flawed characters played by better-than-average actors. As with The Village or The Giver or Memento or a number of other provocative stories, your interpretation of the film and whether it’s ultimately happy or melancholy will probably vary widely depending on your level of tolerance for the noble lie. If you ask me, Audrey Hepburn as Holly effortlessly embodied a modern-day Circe, a silver tongued siren who laid a spell on moviegoers just as smoothly as she entranced the gullible Paul, and that alone is a pretty remarkable achievement for a whole career.

Fortunately, I am mighty.

Some unrelated notes
* I’ve been more or less addicted to Gorillaz for the last week because their sound, more perhaps than any other working band’s, is completely self-contained and incomparable to anything else. And as jarring and jumbled as their shtick should sound by its premise, most of it is oddly incredibly beautiful and soothing. 5/4, Clint Eastwood, Sound Check, Kids With Guns, and Feel Good, Inc. are all well and good, but Revolving Doors may take the cake for my favorite track of theirs.  The ukulele and beats sell the mood so well it doesn’t much matter that the lyrics only tell us it’s a foggy day in Boston.  Until the next Author’s playlist:

* If you haven’t seen the legendary Mr. Plinkett reviews of the Star Wars prequels, you should think of them as required viewing for anybody aspiring to one day work in visual storytelling.  The Mr. Plinkett reviews combine voice acting, broad-based film criticism, clever editing, home video clips, and a surprising dose of dark, un-PC humor that no one’s allowed to write on television.  By the end of the 4.5-hour critique of George Lucas’ midichlorian-drained origin story, you have a thorough understanding not only of why the Star Wars prequels failed but of all the technical reasons why a host of other boring action movies fail.


* For some reason I watched the first couple episodes of this thing called Parks and Recreation.  It’s actually not that bad, which is an unusual occurrence for a major network TV show.  All the cast members are golden, especially Chris Pratt and Nick Offerman, and it does a good job mocking both vehemently anti-government people and empty-headed liberal feminists whose faith in government is never shaken under any circumstances.  Maybe it’ll all turn to crap in a bit, but for now I’m pleasantly surprised.

* The theme song is terrible, though.

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