Six Degrees of Pygmalion

     Recently, I saw a film with a subject matter which sounded very familiar. In this film there was a character who despite coming from a lower class background is able to be passed off to the upper-class as being one of their own. The upper-class characters accept the lower-class character as one of their own because of one major factor, the character has the accent and demeanor of an upper-class person. The film most definately had been influenced by George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, but what film did I view?

     You might guess that I am describing the 1938 film Pygmalion staring Leslie Howard, as Henry Higgins, and Wendy Hiller, as Eliza Doolittle. You might guess that, but you would be wrong. Perhaps I am describing the 1964 film My Fair Lady, a musical adaptation of the Shaw classic staring Rex Harrison, as Higgins, and Audrey Hepburn, as Eliza Doolittle. I might be, but I am not. The film I am actually describing is in actuality the 1993 film Six Degrees of Separation. What, you might ask, does Six Degrees of Separation have in common with Pygmalion or My Fair Lady?

     See if this seen sounds familiar. Trent Conway, a college student played by Anthony Michael Hall, meets a homeless young man named Paul, played by Will Smith, on a rainy night in Boston on a street where Paul was standing in a doorway sheltered from the rain. Trent takes Paul into his home where they discuss the ways of being a rich person. Trent brags that he can teach Paul how to be accepted by the rich people. Trent says that he will make Paul, "the most sought-after man in the East." Paul stayed with Trent for three months, learning how to speak properly, as an upper-class man should speak. At the end of the three months Paul sought out to become accepted into the homes of wealthy people, which he successfully did. Does this sound familiar?

     How about this? Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, meets Eliza Doolittle, a lower-class flower girl, on a rainy night in London under the portico of Saint Paul's church, where she is selling flowers to people taking shelter from the storm. Higgins brags about how he could teach her, a common flower girl, how to speak as a noble lady. He says, "In three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador's garden party. I could even get her a place as a lady's maid or shop assistant, which requites better English." Eliza goes to Higgins' house the following day and is taken in and taught how to speak properly and how to act properly, as a lady should. She is then passed off as royalty at a festive ball for the queen.

     The resemblance of these two stories is amazing to me. When I rented Six Degrees of Separation, I was not expecting to see the story of Pygmalion; however, now that I have been exposed to some of the classic film and literature I am prepared to enjoy references to and total remakes of these films and literature by other film, making my film watching experience much more enjoyable.

Nolan Patton

Table of Contents