This past summer, the world lost one of the great iconic actors of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Ernest Borgnine, an actor whose career ranged decades, passed away at age 95 in July. I first heard of Borgnine when he did the voice of MermaidMan in “SpongeBob SquarePants”. But as I got older, I was able to see a few of his earlier films, including “From Here to Eternity”, “The Wild Bunch”, and today’s film, “Marty”, for which he won his only Academy Award.
Borgnine plays the title character, a thirty-something Italian-American butcher who has been single all his life—and his mother’s constantly reminding him of that fact isn’t helping him much. He’s convinced that at this point in his life, there’s no woman out there for him. In one scene, his mother (Esther Minciotti), whom he still lives with, tries to convince him to go to a party in town and find a girl there. And Marty starts getting angry, and eventually he agrees to go to the party, but he knows that he will find nothing but heartbreak there.
But all that changes when he arrives at the ballroom. There he finds Clara (Betsy Blair), a young schoolteacher who is standing alone on the rooftop of the building crying after being abandoned by her date. Marty asks her to dance, and when they start talking on the dance floor, they start to enjoy each other’s company very quickly. They decide to leave the dance and go walking around town, eventually sitting in a diner where they talk for hours. They talk about their ambitions. They talk about their families. And they talk about how they have always felt unlovable because they don’t feel attractive.
That night, they both end up in Marty’s house, just to talk some more and for Marty to kiss her gently goodnight (something he feels awkward doing for the first time), before Marty takes Clara back home. And Marty feels like he is on top of the world. He runs through traffic, happy as can be, and he’s so excited about the woman he’s finally been able to find.
Sooner or later, though, people around him start to disapprove. Marty’s mother, warned by her sister, knows that if Marty and Clara start spending more and more time together, Marty might get married and leave home, leaving his mother a lonely widow. So she starts thinking less of Clara. And meanwhile, Marty’s friends, more thirty-something guys more attractive than he is, can’t see any physical attraction in Clara and pressure him into forgetting about Clara.
That night, Marty planned on calling Clara to go out again, but he doesn’t because of his friends. However, as he starts thinking more and more about her, he decides to leave his friends, go to the nearest telephone booth, and call her up. One of his friends tries to stop him, but Marty tells him honestly:
MARTY: You don't like her. My mother don't like her. She's a dog and I'm a fat, ugly man. Well, all I know is I had a good time last night. I'm gonna have a good time tonight! If we have enough good times together, I'm gonna get down on my knees and I'm gonna beg that girl to marry me. …You don't like her? That's too bad!
“Marty” is the story of a man convinced that he is unlovable. But one night, when he has lost all hope, he finds a woman who is the perfect one for him. I remember seeing this movie during my freshman year of high school for the first time. And I’ll spare you details, but I was feeling a little unlovable myself. That was a time in my life where this movie had the kind of message I needed to hear.
But beyond what “Marty” could have showed me, God desires to tell me everyday that I am His child and that I am loved. One of the most famous passages in the Bible about how God loves us is in Psalm 139, where David writes what we now like to memorize as Psalm 139:14: “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” When I feel unlovable, I just need to turn to God, and He will remind me that I am worth so much more. My prayer for you this week is that you will feel that love in your life the same way.