The Apartment; Directed by Billy Wilder
1960; Starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine
Only recently have I come to the realization that I love movies made by Billy Wilder. Prior to this enlightenment, I had only digested his films piecemeal, walking away from each thinking “well, that was a pretty damn good movie” and not recognizing my appreciation of his films in a totality. Searching through the films of Wilder in my Netflix account, and from the films that I have seen, most have been rated 5 or 4 stars, with a few exceptions (apparently I absolutely hated the film “One, Two, Three”, most likely on the account of its lampooning of Reds). The generally appreciated canon of Wilder needs no explanation as to why they are great and recognized films (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina, Seven Year Itch, those being only a few selected from a prodigious and celebrated catalog). Recently, I just had myself a second viewing of what I consider to be one of his finest and yet most ignored films, The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and a very coquettish Shirley MacLaine who sports a most adorable 60’s bob.
Having at least two viewings of a film is the only way one can truly appreciate a film in its totality. The first viewing has the audience more interested in following the subject of the film, the story, what is being said, etc. The second viewing, with the audience already being savvy to the subject, allows the viewer to meditate further upon the substance of the film, its form and style. Hence why, great films hold up strong against the test of time, while mediocrity is precipitated beyond the continental slopes and onto the abyssal plains only to be picked apart by bioluminescent fish and/or on dollar racks at discount grocery stores.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, it is to much wonderment on my part as to why this film is not instinctively recognized as one of Wilder’s best (or, to be more accurate, when in discussion of great films, particularly by Wilder, why this one is not as readily referenced as say “Some Like it Hot” or “Sunset Boulevard”). While, in my opinion, the overall aesthetic of his films might be common and antiseptic, the temperament of Wilder’s films is what seduces the audience. This is especially true for The Apartment. There are two very distinct classes in this film; (1)those who have an ‘excess’ of company and love, and as result of this, are numb to the humanity that surrounds them, solipsists, (2)and those who are deprived of company and love, and are acutely aware of their solitude. Appropriately set during the holidays, this allows Wilder to honestly and genuinely articulate the infinite distance between the “haves and have-nots”. It is with much solemnity that one who is alone approaches the merriment of holidays, not unlike travelling alone through Venice or being caught in the snack bar alone on a Saturday night at a movie theater by an acquaintance who then proceeds to mercifully invite you to join their company but you are too proud to accept and tell them that you have friends waiting for you anyways, even though you don’t. Off topic.
Not to simply present a synopsis (those I am certain can be found all over the internets), but for a quick glance at the film I will briefly summarize it. The loner is played by Jack Lemmon, whose character C.C. Baxter uses his bachelor’s apartment to maneuver his way up the corporate ladder, that is, he allows his superiors to use his place after office hours to bring their extramarital intrigues for a quick tryst. This eventually results in a promotion for Baxter, but under a specific condition, his boss, Sheldrake, gets to use his apartment to bring over his “other woman” (every Monday and Thursday). This other woman, no less, happens to be Shirley MacLaine’s character, the woman who Lemmon proceeds to masochistically romanticize over.
There is something to be said about the masochism of both Lemmon’s and MacLaine’s character. That in their inherent masochism lies their raison d'être and it can also be observed that it keeps them sensitized towards their fellow man, particularly Lemmon’s character. In their isolation, paradoxically, is where they find their solidarity with their fellow human beings. It is in their isolation that the viewer can sympathize, empathize, or even relate with the character. While the end film ended just as how people would expect it to end, a generic and stereotypical romantic Hollywood ending, the actual the purpose of the film is not about the bliss of being with that special someone. The film actually recognizes and demonstrates the romanticism of solitude, and the selfless humanity that can be born from such a condition. That there is nothing more humanist than the altruism that is born from unrequited love.