Let Us Be Realistic: Realism Matters

         We live in a society where bad things do happen, just like any other. We have learned from political scandals, false court cases, and hidden inner city hardships that it is better to inform the people than to hide things from them. In their films, directors get a chance to make a difference, to influence, or to incite change.

         Although many children’s books end with the infamous line, “And they all lived happily ever after,” we, as adults, know this is not always the case. Unfortunately, there is divorce, intolerance, hate crime, poverty and other hardships present in today’s society. I think it is the media’s job to face these problems and inform their audience.

         We watched two films adaptations of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play, Pygmalion--Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard’s 1938 Pygmalion, and George Cukor’s 1964 My Fair Lady. The films involved a poor, uneducated woman, Eliza (Wendy Hiller/Audrey Hepburn), being taught to speak eloquently so she could pose as a royal. The movies already discuss the hardship of poverty and the unfair judgment a flower girl receives from the upper class. However, when it came to the endings, they significantly differed in their portrayal of Eliza. In both films, unlike in the original play, she ends up going back to Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison), the man who has been so cruel to her throughout the film.

         This ending may have pleased some because it was happy and left no questions for most viewers. But, for me, it left a lot of room for question. I can only imagine the kind of abuse Eliza will receive, specifically verbal, from Higgins now that she has chosen to stay with him. Perhaps the “sadder” ending really could have been “happier.”

         The “sad” ending would have actually been one of empowerment for Eliza’s character. She could have moved on to become an educator and married a man who would appreciate her for who she was, rather than what he made her become. In cases like this, the unhappy ending could have given a realistic feminist approach to a weak character’s choice.

         Likewise in the movie The Heiress, directed by William Wyler in 1949, the ending is a bit different from the one in Henry James’s 1880 text, Washington Square. Both present similar story lines with realistic, although sad, characters. These characteristics help the viewer to better relate to the story as it unfolds.

         In Washington Square, Catherine kindly tells her pursuer, Morris, that she does not wish to be with him after he returns, wanting a second chance. This kind storybook ending might be favorable to some because it makes the reality of what is happening seem simpler. I prefer The Heiress ending, though, because it shows a hurt, jaded women (Olivia de Havilland) ending an ugly relationship. In this version, she does to Morris (Montgomery Clift) exactly what he had done to her in the past. She leaves him standing outside desperately screaming her name.

         The unhappiness is necessary. Some of the best works of art are made when the artist is unhappy. Being unhappy is an undeniable human trait that we can all relate to. For this reason and others, it is necessary that we do not pretend it is nonexistent. Instead, we should allow the films to be works of expressions by the director. Remember: sometimes the best movies are the ones that make us cry.

Jessica Heacock

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