Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Apartment (1960)


     I hate to do this, but I’m going to start today’s blog with a little history lesson. Before we had a movie ratings system (G, PG-13, and so on), movies had to follow the Hollywood Production Code, made in the 1930’s that banned certain controversial content from movies. As time went on, it got a little more lenient, and pretty soon, movies could talk about almost any issue they wanted, as long as it showed consequences. One of the filmmakers that took advantage of this was a man named Billy Wilder. In 1959, he directed the controversial “Some Like It Hot”, and followed it the next year with “The Apartment”, my favorite of all his films, which has a very dark story but is a great movie because of its humor, its characters, and its acceptance of the consequences.

     Jack Lemmon is C.C. Baxter, working for an insurance company in New York City. He’s a good worker, an average worker, who comes to work on time and frequently stays an extra hour or two after the rest of the workers leave. But those aren’t the reasons why Baxter is so popular among his employers. He’s respected because he loans his apartment out to his employers who are having extramarital affairs and need a place to get away with them. (Dead serious. Controversy much?) It started with one guy, and now several men bring his apartment key back and forth so they can make their affairs (in more ways than one) unseen.

     But because he does this, Baxter is living the good life. He’s on his way to a promotion as a second assistant. And everyday on the elevator up to his cubicle, he makes good conversation with the elevator girl, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). To Baxter, Kubelik seems like an innocent girl, even if she does get hit on by the older male workers. But things are more complicated for her than he realizes. One night, a man using his apartment gives Baxter tickets to a musical, and Baxter decides to take Kubelik to see it. She agrees but she tells him she might be late because she’s meeting another man for dinner before the musical. The man is J.D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), a man high up at the insurance firm who also has used Baxter’s apartment. It turns out that Sheldrake has had numerous extramarital affairs, one of them being the innocent Fran Kubelik. And that night, Sheldrake takes her to a restaurant and tells her that it’s been too long since he’s been with her, but she says, in tears, that she’s started to get over it:

KUBELIK: Look, Jeff. We had two wonderful months this summer, but that was it. It happens all the time. Wife and kids go away to the country, and the boss has a fling with the secretary, or the manicurist or the elevator girl. Come September, the picnic’s over. Goodbye! The kids go back to school; the boss goes back to the wife; and the girl… For a while there, you try kidding yourself that you’re going with an unmarried man. Then one day, he keeps looking at his watch and asks you if there’s any lipstick showing, then rushes out to catch the 714 to White Plains. So you fix yourself a cup of innocent coffee, and you sit there by yourself, and you think. And it all begins to look so ugly!

     Fran is clearly distraught about being caught up in an extramarital affair. And one night, Sheldrake ends up taking her to Baxter’s apartment (and she doesn’t know that it’s Baxter’s apartment), trying to comfort her but she resists. He ends up leaving, and Fran is alone in the apartment. She finds some sleeping pills and overdoses, and Baxter finds her just in time to save her. And what follows is a growing relationship between Baxter and Kubelik, one that she feels that she needs: an innocent friendship with a nice guy.

     And when Baxter finally realizes what Kubelik’s been through, he refuses to let his employers use his apartment. When Sheldrake asks him and offers him an even higher promotion working with him, Baxter takes back his apartment key and quits the firm, telling him that he cannot bring anyone back to his apartment—especially not Miss Kubelik. When Fran finds this out, she starts falling in love with him.

     It was very risky to make a movie like this fifty years ago. Adultery was something that you couldn’t explicitly talk about in the media because it was too… well, adult. But if you’re a Christian, and/or you’ve read the Bible, you know that adultery has been around for basically as long as sin has been around. A couple weeks ago when I talked about “All the President’s Men”, I referenced one of the Ten Commandments that says not to lie. “The Apartment” addresses another Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14) Proverbs 6:32 warns that “a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself.” But Jesus took it even further in the Gospels: He told His followers in the Sermon on the Mount, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28)

     That’s a scary thought, especially for young men like me who struggle with this often. Later in the New Testament, Paul warns the Ephesians that among them, “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (5:3) So basically, a married man can sleep with another woman, and a single man can look at a girl in a lustful way; but they’re still guilty of adultery! And they’re still guilty of sinning and living an impure life.

     However, a powerful story in the Bible is found in John 8:2-11, where the Pharisees test Jesus by bringing to him a woman found in the act of adultery and claiming that the law of Moses says she should be stoned to death. But Jesus knew their hearts, and he said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (8:7) The crowd dropped their stones and left, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. And He told her that since no one else was left to condemn her, neither did he. What a powerful story of forgiveness! And I bet that’s a story that Fran Kubelik would have loved to hear. She would have been able to put her guilt, her impurities, and even her suicidal thoughts behind her and, as Jesus told the woman, “go and leave [her] life of sin”. (8:11)

     My prayer for you, the reader, is that whatever sin you may be carrying today, and however filthy or guilty you may feel, you will be able to lay it down before Jesus, feel His forgiveness, and live a life striving to be pure before Him.

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