The wonderful romance of The Apartment

Let’s play a game? What do you think my favourite film of all time is? E.T., right? Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Pinocchio or Sleeping Beauty? Something related to Steven Spielberg or Disney, anyway. Yep, that’s probably what you’re thinking. And for good reason too. I go on about them waaaaay too much.

But sadly, you’re wrong because my favourite film is actually Billy Wilder’s The Apartment.

Many years ago, I wrote a thorough analysis of the film, looking at Wilder’s shooting style and the moral centre of the film, and I’ll try to find that in the Wayback Machine and post it to this site. In the meantime though, I just want to write a quick blog to celebrate this wonderful film and what it means to me, because along with Spielberg and Disney films, it never fails to put a smile on my face.

At the centre of The Apartment‘s sheer brilliance is the melancholy tone it takes. It’s under no illusion as to how bad the world can be. The men in the film are disgusting pigs, all of them engaging in affairs with little concern for their wives, their children, or their mistresses. If they’re not cheating, they’re chasing power and status, using whoever and whatever they can to get their way. Even out hero, Bud Baxter (played by the greatest actor ever Jack Lemmon) isn’t immune to this.

And yet, within this cesspit, there’s a bright centre of hope. Baxter is a flawed character, but he’s also a good one. He cares – about being a good person, about doing the right thing, and above all, about the lovely Miss Kubelik (played by the lovely Shirley MacLaine). She, like Baxter, is flawed, and is actually the mistress that Baxter’s boss (a very nasty Fred MacMurray) is cheating on his wife with. Yet there’s an innocence to her – just as there’s an innocence to Baxter. They’re two lost souls trying to find each other in a soulless world.

I think about The Apartment a lot because it’s perhaps the perfect way to look at life. We live in a hard world – bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. There’s no logic, no rhyme or reason. And it’s all too easy to find ourselves drawn into these things – to find ourselves defeated and seduced by it, to be the bad person doing the bad thing.

Yet The Apartment shows that it doesn’t always have to be that way. Because Baxter and Kubelik wake up. They clean themselves of the grime of the world, and in the beautiful final scene, Wilder has Kubelik rushing down the road to Baxter’s apartment ready to start a new life with him.

We are all Kubelik and we are all Baxter. We all have our Kubeliks and we all have our Baxters. And someday, thanks to The Apartment, I believe they’ll be running down the road to make life complete.


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