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The Purple Rose of Cairo

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Woody Allen is one of the cinema’s most talented writers and directors. And like Chaplin he does not always make me laugh out loud, but he is a very good story teller. Before I watched this movie I had seen Annie Hall, Manhattan, Bananas, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* But were Afraid to Ask, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Hollywood Ending, and Love and Death. Out of all of them I can remember only really laughing out loud was when I saw Annie Hall. That was until I watched this movie.

This movie starts out with Cecilia (Mia Farrow) as a Depression Era house wife from New Jersey. She is a waitress who is in an unhappy marriage to a worthless gambling, womanizing, abusive, drunkard played by Danny Aiello. Unhappy with her life she turns to the cinema as a way to escape reality and bring a little joy into her life. The movie playing currently she really enjoys called The Purple Rose of Cairo. It is a movie that exists only within the setting of the movie, where Jeff Daniels plays Tom Baxter, a wealthy explorer and poet. Tom encounters a group of wealthy New York socialites on vacation while at the Pyramids of Egypt and they all return to New York for a “mad cap” night on the town. Cecilia becomes enamored with the character Tom who is portrayed and wholesome, courageous and kind. She is also more than a little smitten with the actor who plays Tom, Gil Shepard. But she is mostly taken by the character who is literally the perfect man on the silver screen.

After getting fired from her job, she gets depressed and goes to the movies where she watches The Purple Rose of Cairo all day. And then suddenly the unthinkable happens. The character breaks the fourth wall, acknowledges Cecilia saying he has seen her in five different showings, and what happens? He steps off the screen out of the movie and into the real world and runs away with Cecilia out of the theater. The police are called and the rest of the characters on the screen begin to argue amongst themselves and with the patrons of the theater. The Hollywood studios are even called in because now the fear is that other characters from other movies or the same character in other cities may try to escape from the movie. Meanwhile Cecilia and Tom begin their real life romance. They do however experience problems. For one, Tom has no money that is good in the real world. He is also ignorant of how things are outside of the movie he is unaware of the Depression, soup kitchen lines, brothels, and even love making (which in the movies is done in a fade out). But his character is overflowing with a charm and glow to him that Cecilia finds irresistible. But at the same time he is not a real person, and this becomes an issue and apparent after she runs into none other than Gil Shepard himself who wants to try and get Tom to return to the movie.

This conflict represents the main theme of the movie, reality and fantasy. In reality things are very different from the way things work in the film world (as shown when Tom tries to drive a car with no key). In addition it also shows that while movies make a great temporary escape from life, ultimately one must return to reality and deal with the problems here; a message that does stick a cord with someone who has watched many films and has used films as an escape during rough parts of my life. For me they are a great love and passion, but ultimately they are just escape. Fantasy remains fantasy, and reality is reality. Something that is shown in the end of the film, which I thought was rather moving.

The premise of this movie is excellent, and shows that Allen is a big fan of films, and understands the relationship the audience has with the movies. He knows why we go and how we can feel so connected to the movies. The humor is also pretty funny as the way the audience members and the on screen characters sling insults and banter back and forth to each other and how the entire town and all of Hollywood become very invested in what happens in this little New Jersey town, and their reactions to how exactly a character can exit the movie into the real world was hilarious! Jeff Daniels as both Gil and Tom is fantastic! And Tom and Cecilia's night out in the movie world was both very touching, and had more then a few funny bits!

Before I saw this movie if someone had asked me which was my favorite Woody Allen movie I would have said Annie Hall. Now I can say that my favorite Woody Allen movie is The Purple Rose of Cairo. And I thank Skepsis93 for nominating this for the MOFO Hall of Fame. Because I can honestly say I would not have sought out this movie without it. An excellent film worthy of nomination.