Cynicism and Nostalgia in The Way We Were

In 1973 Sydney Pollack made the film The Way We Were starring Barbara Streisand as Katie Morosky and Robert Redford as Hubbell Gardner.  The story follows the unexpected connection and ultimately tumultuous love affair between the two obviously polar characters.  However, the theme of cynicism stems from a different aspect of the plot that still seemingly pervades the distance between the two characters.  While the whole film is presented in flashback  (one could say that this fills the requirement for nostalgia) we first see Hubbell and Katie together in college in the 1930s.  Katie is vehemently passionate about political issues and voices her Marxist opinions openly to the whole campus with protests.  Hubbell however comes from a preppy, conservative background and was notoriously popular and handsome while Katie was isolated and scorned for being a Marxist Jew.  Katie’s character is consistently an anti-war protestor and in the last scene we see her with protestors protesting the production of the atomic bomb.  This is the direct connection to the topic of cynicism regarding the political climate of the time.

As far as the formal ways in which the topics at hand are conveyed, as far as the issue of nostalgia, the beginning of this scene is a double exposure of Katie daydreaming and the outside of the Plaza where the last scene takes place.  The audience can essentially see what she is seeing in her mind through this device.  In regard to a formal manner of portraying the cynicism, I cannot say that I can identify any specifics other than making the last shot quite busy with lots of people and cars to overwhelm the audience with the importance of Katie’s message.

In Robert Sklar’s essay, Movie-Made America he describes the way that film was essentially a dying art form at the end of the 60s and that going into the 70s people watched much more television than they did film.  This is fascinating to me and also inspires me to look at the way that Pollack chose to present this film. At the time, political turmoil was heated and I would imagine not many people would want to pay to watch a film that discussed permutations of the renowned political views of the time.  Consequently, they made a political story a love story- broadening the audience for the film to younger audiences while still holding to political issues. 

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One response to “Cynicism and Nostalgia in The Way We Were

  1. Your last comment that Pollack made a political romance movie is really interesting. This is one of my favorite movies, and I always viewed it as simply a love story and kind of ignored the political aspect. I always thought it was more of a plot device rather than a social comment. But, I also watched it in the 2000s and didn’t take into account the era in which it was made. Very acute observation. Perhaps Pollack was a very savvy businessman: he was able to make a political comment and still attract an audience with the veneer of a love story.

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