June. Already ten weeks in lockdown and the stress of the pandemic is starting to bite. Forced to change my activities and interests. My social life, film blog and film research neglected are replaced by housekeeping chores and occasional Zoom meetings. But I keep thinking that my situation as a woman aged 85 is not too bad compared to old women who are on their own with no companion and no beautiful garden to breathe in. The force separation of couples has become common place in these last months, as partners are not allowed to be together in illness and death.
I am unable to engage in extensive research. I will give myself the luxury of blogging about the treatment of old couples in the films I have studied since 2009.
There are two aspects of ageing that I would like to investigate in Leo MacCarey’s film Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). Forced separation of the couple and false memories.
I had remarked in my previous blogs that the theme of old people forced to separate was not commented on by reviewers in spite of being the main theme of the film. Also Leo McCarey’s last 1min shot of Lucy on the train platform on her own is one of the most emotionally devastating film images. It would make a stone cry. (Orson Welles.)
Why do the couple have to separate? It is the Great Depression and Bark has not worked for a while. The mortgage has not been paid, the house is being repossessed. Bark and Lucy call their children to help them. The rich couple who could afford to take them in ask for some time before hosting them. One of their daughters lives in California, the other has no space or financial means to look after the old couple. It is decided that Lucy would stay with her son, daughter-in-law and teenage daughter and Bark with his impoverished daughter. As the time goes by, the rich daughter changes her mind and tensions arise in the two guest households. Bark is being sent to California for his health while the daughter-in-law investigates care homes for Lucy.
The heartbreak of the couple’s separation is expressed powerfully in the phone call sequence. In a comedy of embarrassment Lucy shouts her intimate love and concern for her husband to the bridge students of her daughter-in-law. Her back is turned to the students and us the audience. It is a powerful sequence that forces us to think about the couples’ situation.
In the last 20 mins of the film before separating the couple decides to be together rather than with their children.They relive their past and reassess it “happiness spread thin over the whole lifetime”. Bark criticises himself. Lucy reassures him. Lucy regains her independence and is more comfortable than Bark with strangers. They visit the hotel of their honeymoon. Everybody is kind and respectful.
see blog https://oldwomaninfeaturefilms.com/2013/06/27/make-way-for-tomorrow-1937/
This self assurance and acceptance of the inevitable makes the last scene of separation on the station platform between the loving couple so unbearably sad. :”In case I don’t see you again…” says Bark. The pain of separation and mutual declaration of love feel like the final goodbye of death. The fact that Bark goes to sunnier climes may have different connotations for viewers. But the last shot that lasts 1 min. when the train sets off and Lucy is left on her own on the platform is devastating. She has never shown her distress about the future throughout the film but in her words in her letter read to Bark ‘Oh Bark that home for the aged is so dreary and dismal’.
The other strain I would like to highlight is the phenomena of false memories in old age. I have not come across writings about this subject in ageing literature. The couple relive their honeymoon in New York but while the moods described must have been accurate, they differed in time, dates and other details .
One wonders if the song I remembering it well written by F. Loewe and A. J. Lerner 1937 for the film Gigi and sung by Maurice Chevalier was not inspired by “Make way for Tomorrow”.