The Apartment ★★★★★

me watching c.c baxter strain spaghetti with a tennis racket: i'm in this picture and i don't like it.

the office that our protagonist works in seems to stretch on forever. he's one in a thousand of drones, working at open desks, arranged in neat rows. the black and white cinematography makes the whole thing seem even more dull. his life isn't in color but rather in shades of grey. later on in the film, he gets his own office and his great consolation seems to be a painted title on the door. get up, go to work, let the higher-ups use your apartment for their indiscretions, try to pass the time, ignore your own desperate loneliness, rinse, repeat, recycle.

a review i read points out that part of what makes this work is how jack lemmon and billy wilder understand all the ways that c.c. baxter's life and outlook is deeply, horribly pathetic. yes, he's a nice, fundamentally decent guy. yes, he's ground down by mercantile bosses and too much work and stress. yes, we're supposed to sympathize with him. but the film never loses sight of the fact that he's chosen to play into the system with all the slavishness of a servant. his voice is always ingratiating, his eyes are weary and exhausted and knowing. his glee at finally being an executive seems hollow and irritating. it's only when he finally stands up for himself at the end, that we feel any sort of pride for him.

so yes, this is a savagely nasty take-down of all the perils of working life as well as the grind we endure under america's own form of cheery, unrelenting capitalism. but it's also sadly sweet and sweetly sad. this happens to be the most sentimental of wilder's work that i've seen so far. it's not nearly as funny as some like it hot. it's not nearly as tense or exciting as double indemnity. what it is, is human.

ah, hell! i may have teared up at the ending. what underlies the satire is something deeply sad and true. in a word where we're more and more reduced to automans, what remains is a grasping need to love and be loved by someone. connection is hard and scary and frequently fails but we all have to shut up and deal. watch this for the little moments.

billy wilder had a heart. it's in jack lemmon's happy attempts to get shirley maclaine to laugh at his ridiculous executive hat. it's in her struggle to smile even as her eyes are empty. it's in the doctor telling c.c. baxter he did it for a neighbor. it's in every scene that they play gin rummy. and it's in that ending, where all maclaine has to do is say the simplest of phrases and jack lemmon completely understands.

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