|Image from Amazon.com|
Ask any female of a certain baby boomer age and she’s likely to tell you that The Way We Were was the ultimate chick flick of its era. Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford are gorgeous in this film, so if nothing else, just watching them is a joy. I’m also impressed by how well the story holds up. It’s a love story through the decades, beginning when the couple meets in college when Katie (Streisand) is a brainy anti-fascist student activist and Hubble (Redford) is a popular jock. Katie has fallen hard for Hubble, not even because of his striking good looks, but because of his intellectual acumen. Nothing really comes of their relationship until the two meet again about 5 years later when she’s working in Manhattan and he’s a sailor on leave.
Now, the year is around 1942 and I wonder how probable it was to have a 20-something single woman living in a one bedroom apartment holding down three or so jobs. This movie came out in 1973, during the height of the women’s lib era and it’s hard to tell if that’s a retrospective assertion on what should have been likely, or if it could actually have been the case. I was probably more distracted by that question than I should have, but nonetheless, that’s where the story went.
It is at this point when their relationship comes to fruition. However, it is not without its problems. Katie continues to be outspoken on almost every issue, causing tensions with Hubble’s friends. Eventually he has enough of it and ends things with Katie. They ultimately reconcile under the conditions that she will learn to let things go and won’t turn everything into a fight. Despite the conditions, Katie and Hubble form a contentious but passionate relationship which ultimately leads to marriage and a move out west to Hollywood where Hubble can pursue his interest in being a Hollywood screenwriter. During a protest at the trial for the “Hollywood 10” Katie can’t keep her true self contained anymore and releases her rage on the situation and the injustices being served. Hubble, a screenwriter at this point and has some obvious ulterior motives of not wanting to draw too much attention to himself during this contentious era, does not agree with Katie on this particular topic. They come to realize that despite their passion for one another they cannot get past the fundamental difference that she is a pot-stirrer while he is a status quo kinda guy. The pair splits and Katie returns to New York to resume her activist life where she left it.
I found this story to be so sad because even though they loved each other and had so much passion for one another, they were not good for each other. Hubble wanted to have the quiet WASPy wife who wouldn’t shake things up too much and just go with the things as they were. He is the go with the flow guy without and while he’s very smart, no particularly strong passions other than the desire please people. There is no real reason that these two should have been drawn to one another. It’s made clear that Katie has a strong physical attraction to him, but other than that and she is impressed by how bright he is, but often looses patience with him for not insisting on following any sort of passion for his talent. He is initially impressed with her passion for ensuring justice is served, but eventually that fades into a frustration for her insisting to make an issue out of everything. Eventually, these two really had no business being together other than the fact that they simply loved one another, and once they realized it was no longer working, they ended the relationship. It just goes to show that love can only last so long without any other commonalities.
What I also found interesting on a cultural level is that there was a lot of mention of the fact that Katie was Jewish and Hubble was “Goyish.” Katie, in many regards, is a stereotypical image of a Jewish person as intellectual, outspoken and opinionated. It was because of these character traits that she and Hubble had so much turmoil in their relationship. By the end of the film, when the pair is no longer together, we find that Katie has remarried a “David X. Cohen,” obviously a Jew, and has found what seems like will be a lasting happy marriage. It seems as though the only person who could not only tolerate her opinionated and outspoken nature, but can match it as well is another Jewish person; as if this is a Jewish-specific character trait. Ironic that a love story about two people from very different backgrounds that sets off to send a message about assimilation ends up reaffirming the reasons not to.
Truly a product of its time, the message of this movie is also not for a woman to learn her place and quiet down to get a man. She can be as strong as she wants to be, and it is the man who needs to learn to be with her. If he is unable to be with her, she will move on and not relinquish her passions to be with her supposed dream-guy. At the end of the film Katie and Hubble run into each other one last time. This is when we learn that Katie has remarried and we briefly meet Hubble’s new “girl.” Nameless to the audience, this new girl does not speak one word, but clings closely to him when she observes the passion in his eyes upon seeing Katie once more. Katie’s like a drug for him: he knows she’s bad for him, but he’s drawn to her nonetheless. That spark will always be there, which makes the ending even more tragic. They never fell out of love, they just couldn’t survive it.
The movie definitely holds up today, almost 40 years after first coming out: as long as opposites attract this story will resonate with audiences.