On the eve of Valentine’s Day, I watched “Washington Square,” which came in on queue through Netflix. Little did I know that romance would turn to spite and that I would end up feeling sad and old at the end.
This movie is about a woman who is born a twin but both mother and brother die in the moment. Raised by a father who is passive aggressive with his resentfulness and an aunt who is silly, the girl becomes bashful and slow. Oddly, someone very handsome falls for her and even more oddly, her father isn’t impressed. I am thinking, and later on another aunt points out that his options for his daughter are quite limited and he should take what he gets. This is when we see the aggressiveness and realize what a prick the father really is. He wants her all to himself and couldn’t care less what her needs are. He lost his wife, so he needs to be cared for. The lover loses patience over time and the young woman begins to grow and mature. In the end, she is an “old maid” running a nursery school and living a life of her own.
Part of me wanted to have some empathy for the father. It was not brought up in the movie, but I wonder if the Henry James novel mentioned that he might have a fear that he would lose his daughter to childbirth too. Perhaps he was a jerk to keep her alive and spare another from losing a wife too. Not having read the story, I couldn’t say. Observing the actor, it looked highly doubtful.
The woman was played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, an exceptional actress generally found in independent films. She was able to carry off the different stages of this character. In the beginning of her adulthood, I actually wondered if she had borderline intellectual functioning. It’s hard to gauge when you are looking at a period piece. By the end of the film, she was still a little off in the personality department yet she was so strong and more in charge of her emotions. I found myself deeply depressed at the ending, since I am also a single older woman.
When you are older does it mean forever when you are single? This is so easy to question as the choices are not quite so many and the ageing process is not always kind. In my late 40’s, I can say that single men aren’t quite as apt to worry about their bodies, as they were in their 20’s. The selection can be pathetic. Single women are expected to always look competitive, that is if you are interested in being selected.
The daughter in Washington Square, Catherine, is choosing at the end to stay alone even though the suitor returns unmarried and with the promise of hope. Is she doing this to spite him or is it because she now holds the independence and financial security so she does not need him? She is still a virgin and women were not too concerned about sex in this time period. She is too old for having children safely as well, though this might have been a problem for her at any age.
There is something to be said about relationships that end horribly but not because there was a lack of love. An energy ceases to diminish between the two and so there is a tie that binds forever. Having experienced this a couple of times, I am very much aware of how love ages, even though you are in different time zones and are definitely not together. There are times when there is an opening, yet you don’t quite want to go backwards. I have had an offer that I almost took but then chose not to in the end. I have had a confession and I have had one who wanted to string me along. In their heart, I was still the young 20-something who was naive and willing. Like Catherine, I had aged and matured and knew that a relationship can’t have a second chance when it ends with sorrow. No matter how much you loved the person, there is still a pain that can not be repaired. A betrayal of loyalty is one that cannot be mended.
Yet when we are older women, it is so easy to think, my God, is this it? Am I going to be like Catherine and live in my home alone forever? Should I concede to settle in the comfort of my domain and be happy with solitude and grateful that I do not have to put up with some rut that I managed to get myself into? These are the questions put upon us as women, when we watch this movie.
There are also the questions of the male roles and the way men were expected to behave in that society. How are they different now? How do relationships differ? In what ways are they similar?
Romantic movies are rarely about easy relationships that come so naturally. If they were no one would watch them because they just don’t exist in real life. And on the occasions when they do, it does not equate with drama and so a movie they will not make.
Love is not typical.