The Way We Were: The Agony and The Ecstasy

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So if you have been keeping up with The Good, The Bad, and The Podcast, you are probably aware that today we released our ninth episode: Female Singers Moonlighting as Actresses (or some other really, really long title that you can thank Charles for—BAZINGA!). In this episode we discuss, among other things, the Streisand classic The Way We Were (1973). Now, you might be asking yourself why I felt the need to write even MORE about this movie after you’ve already heard me blather on about it for ten minutes during the podcast, and my answer to you is this: it is just that important (and also I forgot to make about 70% of the points I had intended to make on the subject).
If you are not familiar with this movie, here is the trailer as featured on IMDB:
The film begins as it does in the trailer, with Barbra herself invisibly singing the titular track. Boom. There it is. You’re hooked. If you’re not hooked by the haunting and gorgeous strains of this melody (and mist rising whimsically off the water, the whole nine yards) then I really just don’t know what to do with you. Just kidding (…maybe). The point is, Marvin Hamlisch wrote a score for this movie that is so beautiful it will make your teeth recede into your head. Whatever else I feel about The Way We Were, this theme song is, hands down, my favorite movie theme of all time.
My thoughts on TWWW as a whole are not so clear. During the podcast, I identified this as my “ugly” pick of the week—basically, I kind of love it, but also recognize that there are many horrifying and uncomfortable things about it that prevent me from revealing to most people that I have seen it a dozen times. One thing I do appreciate about it, though, is how different my feelings toward it are depending on my stage of life. I guess that can probably be said about most movies, but it feels particularly true with this one.
The first time I watched it was in 9th or 10th grade. I was sleeping over at my friend Lisa’s house, and we were hopped up on ice cream, friendship, and the delirium of being awake at 2 am. It came on TV, and we were completely spellbound. It was like a train wreck that our fifteen-year-old eyeballs simply could not tear themselves away from. What the crap was happening?! Didn’t Babs know she was BREAKING ALL THE RULES OF DATING?! Didn’t she know you were supposed to pretend NOT to like someone in order for him to know how much you liked him?! It was laugh-out-loud, roll-on-the-floor absurd, and I’m pretty sure I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever seen.
Fast-forward five years. I was halfway through college at this point, growing very disillusioned indeed with the world of men. I had had a few boyfriends, some unrequited crushes, and a series of sour and/or disastrous casual dates that never fully formed themselves into relationships. Luckily, I was living in an apartment with my posse of amazing ladyfriends, and our sole purpose in life (besides, you know, occasionally studying) was to guide each other through the inevitable pitfalls of romance and dating. It was then that I rediscovered The Way We Were, although this time it took on a completely different meaning to me. Suddenly, Babs/K-K-K-Katie was one thousand times more sympathetic, and I became enraged at Robert Redford for treating her so cavalierly! Who did he think he was, anyway? Why did he just expect everything to be so easy? Was he so afraid of a complicated, independent woman that he would throw away true love?!
Somewhere between these two extremes, you will find my current feelings on the matter. I think that as men and as women, we tend to polarize and gather amongst our gender at either end. Men watch this movie, and for the most part side with 15-year-old me. Katie’s desperate antics inspire in them a desire to run far, far away, or at the very least roll their eyes and swear off women who have strong political leanings of any kind. I have a very good guy friend who watched TWWW a few months ago, and immediately texted me “That was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen all the ‘SAW’ movies.”
Meanwhile, I feel that most women, young or old, will empathize with 20 year old me. We watch this movie, and we think “Oh, men! That’s all they want—for everything to be easy! They just can’t handle complicated women who are independent! R-E-S-P-E-C-T!” This really is a great gender studies movie, when you get right down to it. And, to be honest, this point of view feels extremely true a lot of the time. ESPECIALLY when you are a young, single gal who can’t find a guy who wants to commit or deal with the fact that not only have you seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but you enjoy discussing them at length.
There is even an episode of Sex and the City about it (with parallels to Big and Carrie, of course). This clip pretty much says it all:
Here’s the thing, though, ladies. What we ignore, in the presence of our gal pals, is that Katie is kiiiiind of an annoying character. We like to pretend that she isn’t, because most of us have at least one thing that we are ridiculously passionate about (in Katie’s case, Communism) despite the fact that nobody else cares about it. We wave our banners of individuality and feminism, but the truth is that if she were a man OR a woman, she would still be annoying and impossible. She has some truly great qualities, like being loyal and passionate and wanting Hubbell to be his best self, but she is also desperate and bull-headed and takes everything way too seriously. If a relationship is to succeed, both parties have to compromise a teeny bit. They just do.
When you have just gotten out of a relationship (and you personally feel that being able to recite entire passages from Gone With the Wind should make you MORE attractive to the opposite sex, not less) The Way We Were feels like your spirit movie. Quirky girls: UNITE! But then you actually WATCH watch the movie, and you realize that Babs’ character is out of control. Her antics in the entire first half of the film are the antics of a crazy person. Never, under any circumstances, should you remove your outer garments and crawl into bed with a sleeping man who A. Doesn’t realize you’re there, and B. Has never given you any indication whatsoever that he wants to “know” you in the biblical sense. Katie does not observe the conventions of polite society, however, and continues to plow through the movie with essentially no regard for how her actions might be affecting anyone else. This is where I feel she falls short as a character: it’s not that she’s “too complicated” for Hubbell, it’s that she is a bulldozer. She thinks she knows what’s best for him in every aspect of his life, and maybe she does, but I can’t help thinking this movie might have had a different ending if she would have toned it down about 5 notches. Let the guy write his book the way he wants to, jeez.
As a result of all this, she pushes Hubbell too hard one too many times, and he can’t deal any more. During the first of their breakups, Barbra says to him: “You’ll never find anyone as good for you as I am; to believe in you as much as I do, or love you as much!” to which Hubbell replies that he knows. And he really does! Both he and the audience know that what she says is true, but sometimes that is just not enough. Love and marriage are as much about love on a daily basis as they are about the grand scheme of things, and day by day we all just want to know that we are heard and appreciated. We want to know that what we say and think matters to that special someone, and despite all her best efforts, Babs was really only ever doing what she wanted to do. This, I think, is where we could all stand to do a little bit better. Let’s think of that someone else as much as we think about ourselves, and then we’ll start to have something really amazing.
Are you team #Babs or team #Redford? Let us know what you think in the comments below! As always, I encourage everyone to share his or her thoughts—I’d love to have a discussion on this or any other movie! Stay tuned for more classics with me, and please subscribe to GoodBadPodcast if you’ve got a hankerin’ for more movie talk! 🙂

KelleyThe Way We Were: The Agony and The Ecstasy

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