The respectable modern life is easy to define: a home, a partner, a full-time job, probably some kids – human, furry, or both.
Most of us have chosen this structured, pre-fab life even though no one is forcing us to. So, what the heck is going on with us? Are we followers? Patsies? Drones? Cowards? Chumps?
Possibly. But the alternative may be a whole lot worse. “The Misfits” is a bleak film about a group of people who reject the respectable modern life at their own peril.
Marilyn Monroe is hauntingly wonderful as Roslyn. She has come all the way out to Reno, Nevada for a quickie divorce. And now that she’s free, she has no idea what to do.
Conveniently, Roslyn is incredibly sexy, so she makes friends easily. A slick-talking old cowboy named Gay (Clark Gable) picks her up at a casino.
Like Roslyn, Gay is jobless and homeless and rootless. They shack up together at Gay’s friend’s half-built desert house. Gay isn’t a bum, but he darn well isn’t going to take a regular job. He seethes when he talks about how other people “work for wages,” like it’s code for joining the Klan.
It seems like “The Misfits” is going to be an off-beat romance. But screenwriter Arthur Miller and director John Huston have very different ideas.
Roslyn and Gay cling to each other, but they never really get close. They’re both too damaged and lost.
Roslyn is like a sad philosopher, questioning every truth and virtue she was told to believe in. “We’re all dying, aren’t we? All the husbands and all the wives. Every minute. And we’re not teaching each other what we really know, are we?”
Gay always wears a rugged, Marlboro Man-smile, but he’s even more far-gone than Roslyn. The scene where his estranged kids leave him without saying good-bye is heartbreaking.
“The Misfits” goes from bleak to nihilistic when they pick up another homeless cowboy named Perce (Montgomery Clift).
Perce deals with his misery and emptiness by disregarding his health and well-being. After getting bashed around by a horse during a rodeo, he staggers back and gets on a bucking bull.
The film’s rawest scene takes place at the bar after the rodeo. Perce is high on adrenaline, morphine, whiskey, and probably a concussion. He is giddy and upbeat for a few glorious, fleeting minutes before returning to his dark thoughts. Montgomery Clift does an incredible job of showing us the short, exciting, dangerous life of a depressed daredevil.
That’s the power of “The Misfits.” We’ll never know where the sad acting ended and the sad reality began. Clark Gable died just after filming concluded. Marilyn Monroe overdosed a few years later. Clift drank himself to death by 1966.
So, am I a follower and a coward for living my respectable, structured modern life? Yeah, maybe. But the other options are looking pretty bad.