The Apartment

If there was ever a film that served as a warning against corporate life and a few other so-called American ideals from the “golden age” of history which people are want to remember overly fondly, it is The Apartment. Comedic actors Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine decidedly lighten the bleak portrait of then-contemporary society painted by writer and producer Billy Wilder.
At first glance the film seems to revere patriarchal ideology and capitalist work ethic, but the method of success seems solely to be prostitution of one’s self and exploitation of others. Lemmon loans his apartment to his superiors who use his bachelor pad to entertain their mistresses. MacLaine is the quirky and witty elevator operator who always falls for the wrong man; this time it’s a scoundrel higher-up with the perfect family in the suburbs (played by Fred MacMurray). Lemmon begins to climb the corporate ladder, but sink ever lower in self-respect.
The entire movie plays with comedy and drama, light and dark. The somber tale of Lemmon’s character’s suicide attempt with a gun is lightened by his offer to show MacLaine the scar and she refuses saying, “the fellows in the office might get the wrong idea about how I found out.” We shake our heads at Lemmon’s weakness as he can’t seem to say no, but then cheer his moments of strength; we are never made entirely cynical.
In the end, the characters only manage to morally rise above their situations by escaping the firm in which they both work. Their boss, the perfect example of corporate success, maintains his position of power and control. The message is clear: you can lead a moral, happy life, just not in the corporate world.


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