Friday, February 01, 2008

96. The Misfits (1961)

Directed by John Huston
Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter

John Huston's DGA nod was the only major nomination that the intensely powerful The Misfits received. Penned by the legendary Arthur Miller it tells the story of newly-divorced Roslyn (Monroe) and her mouthy friend Isabelle (Ritter), who upon meeting aging cowboy Gay (Gable) and his friendly tag-a-long Guido (Wallach), rush off with them to Gay's country ranch for a relaxing holiday.

That this be a very atypical "western" is indicative of the film's keenness to demonstrate the cultural transition of America in this period. Monroe's divorcee, neither worldly nor experienced, initially appears to be a traditional 'damsel' of the genre, confused and alone. But as we learn more about her she evolves from submissive girl to promiscuous woman, catching both us and the two men off-guard. Retrospectively speaking though this shouldn't come as a great shock, Roslyn initially turning her back on the institution of marriage and then making a spontaneous decision to leave town with two men she hardly even knows. The film's success in making its leading woman's journey feel both surprising and yet passionately necessary, gives us a valuable flexibity, in terms of perception and gaze, with which to watch its events unfold. Its vast overview of such an intimidating culture and the people entrenched within it is itself revelatory.

There is no one character to identify with in the film. No hero, villain, wiseguy. The film's reluctance to draw attention to the positive and negative aspects of the characters enables you to make your own judgement, certainly one of the main points to take from it. The Misfits is about the death of the paradigm, the hypocrisy and struggle within an ingrained society trying to find its feet. The film begins with Roslyn determined to move on, and ends with a bitter resignation that things have to move on. In one of the most powerful cinematic sequences I've ever seen, a group of cowboys round up a group of horses to kill for dog meat. The construction of this sequence is filmed with the flair of a Western chase, majestic and grand. It mirrors the desperate grasp of its characters to hold on to the past, the majesty of a tradition that is all but obsolete. The Misfits is vital, vital viewing.


goatdog said...

If you find yourself in Chicago on April 5, I'm showing this in 35mm at the revival house I run. I haven't actually seen it yet--would it be worth a plane ticket?

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