Every Man Needs a Holly Golightly (To Tell Them They Know Nothing About Women)
For the intent and purpose of snooping, Instagram is an excellent place. A person can find practically anything they want to know through followers, followers of followers, and so on down the highly elaborate parade of celebrities, cottage core decor, and short clips linking you to Tik Tok. Every nosey human will dive into this platform looking for people they haven’t seen in years, and every nosey human will come out slightly disappointed their life isn’t as cool as the other person’s life seems. I am wholeheartedly that nosey human, and that dark drive to know everything drove me to the page of a friend who had effectively disappeared from my life. The post I saw, from what I remember, was her on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. She looked happy.
It’s October 5, 1961 and someone has decided to go to the movies. They pick what might arguably become one of the most iconic and controversial films of the 60s. Then, it’s two tickets for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and “Shhh! The film is starting.” People know her as Audrey Hepburn, but in this movie, she’s someone else and she’s getting out of a taxi. With breakfast and beverage in her hands, we watch this woman stare into the windows of Tiffany and Co. imagining what she can have. The film sets its tone in that way as we see the character of Holly Golightly eat her breakfast and walk right on to the next window. A quick summary of the film would make someone see the groundwork being set in this scene. Holly’s character throughout the film is constantly reflecting herself into different metaphorical windows. She visualizes and manifests a new life for herself in perpetuity. Ultimately, coming to realize that what she wants is love.
This ending seems a little out of place on paper and it will be elaborated on as to possible reasons why the ending of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is deeply lacking in nuance. As well as relating why this classic film connects to the loss and surprise of realizing that you really don’t know anyone. Before any discussion on those matters, there is a need for a taxonomy, so some history must be addressed. In the WWII era of filmmaking, there was a massive spike in films marketed towards women, about women, and mostly written or directed by men known as “Women’s Films” alternatively called the “Women’s Picture” among other things. These films have a history, according to many scholars of the genre, rooted in repression of female independence. The plots, characters, and lessons are clichéd stereotypes or negative perspectives on female existence. This tracks really well historically and from a film theory perspective, especially since these films were most often led by men. Consequently, the key issue to remember is that almost the entirety of the films in the genre are a man’s perspective on what a woman deals with. It seems outlandish on paper much like the ending of Breakfast at Tiffany’s which was directed by Blake Edwards (a man), written by George Axelrod (a man), and based off of a novella by Truman Capote (a man).
Yet, the true center of the film is the mystery of this woman, Holly Golightly, and the audience’s perception of her is filtered through the experiences of our main character, Paul. Paul is a struggling writer who lives in the same apartment building as Holly, and also finds himself very attracted to her romantically. After several encounters with each other and the related drama, they find their love for each other to be in full bloom. Paul knows things about Holly, and it is key to understand that dynamic.
For example, Holly is presumably an escort to the many wealthy men of New York City. Paul knows this is how she lives, and he doesn’t mind her taking independence in this way. Why that might be is something that will raise itself later, so for now the focus is that Paul accepts Holly as she is. The men that rotate in Holly’s life are perpetually drooling over her, and the film creates a discussion about that. It is mostly to be perceived by the audience as naïve behavior. Yet, there is still an element of obsession in Paul where he longs to know and understand who Holly is. It doesn’t necessarily seem problematic on the surface, since the couple are friends and there isn’t an element of stalking behavior, but Paul sees Holly like an wild, elegant being. It is a kind of analytical awe that begs the narrative of will he tame her or will she be the one that got away. It seems darker in that light, and the film hides a lot of those undertones well. In fact, it isn’t explicitly stated that Holly is even an escort, but the innuendos in both the original source material and the film make it clear.
Holly as a character participates in both her own liberation and in the manipulation of the patriarchy to her will. It is the male gaze that funds her lifestyle, and it is the male gaze of the camera that reveals her secrets to the audience. In this way, she is never free from patriarchal bonds, because she is seen by the men in her life, the audience, and even Paul as an object of value to be attached to. Part of this is because of a societal standard of beauty, but it is just as much the nature of the system.
To revert back, I was confused by the Instagram post, because the last I had heard from my friend, she was not doing well financially. Where was she even living, and how did she get there? Another friend told me they had heard she started escorting. To this day, I do not know if this is true, but given all the different evidence presented to me by mutual friends and my friend herself, before she left my life, it seems plausible. I became obsessed with the character of Holly Golightly, because her existence in the film seemed so eerily similar to that which was my friend’s online presence.
I admit. I had become Paul, but not in the romantic sense. I had become Paul by desiring that which isn’t fair. Paul is a reflection of the women’s picture. A man in dire need of knowing what it means to be a modern woman. Paul’s intentions, like that of many women’s pictures, is about being in control of a woman’s life or to have power or participation over the discourse of how she uses her independence. Paul’s drive is romantic, because he cares for Holly. This doesn’t justify the role Paul wishes to have in her life. Ultimately, secrets are revealed and Paul is trusted, which places him in the center of Holly’s world. Holly chooses to accept Paul into her life, because, in the audience’s mind, how could she not? This doesn’t seem like control. In fact, it is as though Holly wasn’t steering the ship at all, but rather the will of men (writer and director) was placed on her (the character) in the context of the film. It seems as though just for a brief moment that Breakfast at Tiffany’s will be different. Holly will decide to take Paul because she wants him, and not because he is there and loves her.
Upon seeing the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the audience is conditioned to root for Paul’s side. They have to get together. It is the only way we as an audience can be satisfied. We don’t think to ourselves, “Is this relationship practical, or does it make sense?” All we can think is, “Kiss her, be together, and find the cat!” This places the film in a tight squeeze of seeming like commentary on a genre, but in reality diving headfirst into its worst tropes. Paul’s desire to be Holly’s partner isn’t fair. Likewise, it is unfair for me to expect to know my friend deeper than she allows. I don’t get to have an opinion on her choices, because it isn’t my life. I don’t get to dictate how often any of my friends or people I care for talk to me, because it isn’t my life. And because it isn’t my life, I can’t demand or be disturbed by something I truly have zero understanding of. This moral lesson brought straight to me by watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s applies to all cisgender men. For cisgender men to try to make a comment on the female experience is foolish. We genuinely have no experience to ground our understanding.
I think back to the post on Instagram that surprised me, and I can almost hear “Moon River” playing in the Gulf of Mexico. I have to let her go, and remember, she looked happy.