Monday, July 17, 2006

Interest Versus Obligation

"Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue" says Francois de La Rochefoucauld (it would be a French guy). Perhaps this is best demonstrated in Hollywood movies. They tend to tell stories that end in conventional morality, while luxuriating in the sin along the way.

For instance, gangster pictures end with the protagonist dead in the gutter, but audiences pay to watch his rise, as he gains wealth and meets beautiful women by killing a lot of people. Another example is The Hustler, which I watched a few days ago. After pool shark Paul Newman drives his woman to suicide, he gives up the game forever (I don't give spoiler warnings for classic films over 40 years old), but we're watching the movie for the pool scenes and the hardboiled dialogue, while the love affair is relatively dreary.

(Not that Hollywood invented this. George Bernard Shaw complained about the immorality of plays where the audience wallows in the world of a courtesan for two and a half hours, only to have her die in the last ten minutes due to her iniquity.)

Why am I bringing this up? Because it was something to think about during the dull scenes in The Devil Wears Prada. I recommend this movie, by the way. The story of Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), who gets a job as personal assistant to a demanding boss, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), at a fashion magazine, is very entertaining. However, the fun is all about the nasty stuff at the magazine, while every now and then the film returns to Andy's decent but tiresome boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier), to remind her (and us) this is the path she should be taking.

Once you get past the modern trappings, this is one of Hollywood's oldest plots. A young woman comes to the big city and must make a choice: fame and/or financial success versus true love. She always picks true love in the end. I think the reason Hollywood keeps telling us this story is that they just dont believe it.

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