Movies We Like
The Arrangement (1969)
Thanks to my co-worker Jackie for throwing this one my way after telling her how much I enjoy Richard Lester’s Petulia.
Here’s another success from jack-of-all-trades Elia Kazan. This time around he’s mining the tumult of the white-collar male psyche amidst 1960s america. This was a time when veteran and rookie American filmmakers were absorbing the groundbreaking editing and storytelling techniques of European behemoths like Bertolucci, Bunuel & Bergman, and regurgitating them into something wholly new. Something prime Americana. This particular example is a great meeting place for leaders of the old guard (Kazan, Douglas & Kerr) rubbing elbows with a dash of the then-newer crop (Dunaway). This vehicle ends up working as a social mixer for the classic styles of Kazan’s past and the fresh ideas coming in from across the Atlantic. The resulting product nests roughly between the realms of a classic melodrama and a surrealist psychological satire.
I’m taking a stab in the dark on this one, but I’m going ahead and assuming that this story was at least somewhat autobiographical for Kazan. Both he and Douglas’s character, Eddie Andersen, were born to Greek parents. Both of their fathers disapproved of their life paths, etc. The list goes on. Okay, it’s settled: this is a semi-autobiographical story of a man’s fall from normality in an attempt to find himself. To BE himself.
In The Arrangement we follow ad-man Eddie’s disassociation from the upper-middle class stagnation that he’s made his identity. He doesn’t find fulfillment in his job (hawking cancer-causing cigarettes to the masses, convincing people they’re OK). Suicidal & depressed, he stumbles upon a romantic relationship with co-worker Gwen (Dunaway). Her free-thinking abrasive character bamboozles Eddie and thrusts him into the throes of what he thinks is some sort of love. Not for Gwen! She could represent the women’s movement of the times. Women’s empowerment and independence. His father is also descending into dementia. He loses/quits his job after several suicide attempts. He hallucinates regularly. Meanwhile, his saint of a wife (Kerr) patiently stands right beside him through each endeavor. Infidelities and all. Also, his sister’s trying to get him checked into a mental hospital. Wow! This guy has a lot of stuff to deal with.
It feels like a less taut precursor to Charlie Kaufman’s forays into Freudian studies, like Syndecdoche, NY or Being John Malkovich. We’re exploring one person’s outlook through a myriad of viewpoints and timelines. A multi-hued kaleidoscope window into the soul. Existential peripheries aside, the way we humans and our relationships change, lies at the core of this story. Nothing destroys the soul faster than stagnation of the self. Here is a man obsessed with an ideal of love and what he’s supposed to get out of it, but he only finds the trappings of a society that’s crammed this ideal down his mind-shaft his whole life. He can’t just jump into the fabulous swinging '60s and expect it to be a clean break from his past. It’s rocky. Love is rocky. Emotions are rocky. The consequences of such a drastic jump are detrimental and this film shows some of those consequences. “Love’s a word they say before they pull your guts out,” laments Gwen. Here lies a man broken by his own will to be free of himself and of others.