I watched From Here to Eternity again yesterday. After writing Letting Go of Dreams (a blog piece partly inspired by the movie), I received an email from a faithful reader who told me my view of Burt Lancaster's character was sadly skewed.
Sadly skewed? Those seemed like awfully strong words. Then, I realized it had been twenty years since I had watched the movie.
It got me to thinking, What if I had it all wrong? What if my measure of the man was inaccurate?
And so, I got out my old copy of From Here to Eternity and popped into the Blu-ray.
For those of you who have not watched the movie, From Here to Eternity is a romantic drama set in Hawaii in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor. Burt Lancaster plays Milton Warden, an Army Sergeant conducting an affair with his Commanding Officer's wife (played by Deborah Kerr).
About thirty minutes into the movie, Burt and Deborah have a romantic liaison on a secluded beach. After splashing in the surf, they fall to the sand and kiss each other with spine-tingling passion.
The scene of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing on the beach was as sexually charged as I had remembered it, but my memory of other things proved shockingly unreliable.
The first time I watched the film, I thought it was a romantic tale of two lonely people having an exciting, clandestine love affair. I thought it was a story of two people who really loved each other but were kept apart by pride and circumstance.
I am not so sure I think that anymore.
I noticed things about Milton Warden this time that I had not notice in my youth - like the way he raised his eyebrow when a fellow soldier suggested that he could not bed the Captain's wife, as if to say, "watch me." And the way he showed up at the Captain's house - knowing the Captain's wife would be home alone - boldly asking for a drink.
He seemed like a libertine.
I switched off the DVD player and sat in disappointed silence. The romance was not at all the way I remembered it.
I wondered if Warden had ever truly loved the Captain's wife or had he merely been thrilled by the chase?
And then there was the ending...
The ending cast the film in a tawdrier light. Warden was no longer the lean-waisted, hard-as-nails, dedicated career Army man, who chose to put his patriotism above his passion. He was a hunter of housewives, a heartless home wrecker, who brushed his conquest off as if she were merely a grain of sand on his service uniform.
Watching From Here to Eternity again had me pondering the nature of memories.
A few years ago, I returned to my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. My first visit was to my Grandpa's old house at 1927 Brussels Street.
Before my visit, I remembered it as being a pre-depression-era home with a large screened porch and a neat yard, lined with the black tulips my Grandpa ordered each year from Holland.
The porch was more of landing. The tulips had long since withered away. At some point, the neighborhood took a sharp downward turn. The house itself was significantly smaller than I had remembered it being.
I drove away feeling sad and wishing things could have remained the way I had remembered them to be.
I felt the same way after watching From Here to Eternity again.
I wonder, which is reality - my memory or my present impression? Was Milton Warden's affair with his Captain's wife romantic or seedy?
I also wonder if my own experiences in love have hardened me, wiped clean my rose tinted glasses.
I want to view Warden the way I did when I was still naive and unscathed by Love's indiscriminate arrows. I want to see him as a helpless hero, a pawn in a larger plan, unable to act on his passions because of his duty, not as someone who used a lonely, confused woman.
The words echo in my head and I wonder again which of my views of Milton Warden is accurate. Either I have become jaded and mistrustful and Warden is the romantic hero I once believed him to be, or, Warden truly is a ruthless pursuer of a damaged damsel.
Ironically, men like Warden are the reason I would be jaded - men who pursue women and then discard them as if they meant nothing at all, were merely a bothersome grain of sand upon their khakis.
In trying to solve the Warden riddle, I keep going back to the ending. It's the ending that bothers me most. The Japanese have just attacked Pearl Harbor and a cloud of mourning hangs heavy over paradise. Warden has lost friends in the attack. One would think that a man who lived through such violence would grab onto what was beautiful and true and never let go.
But, Warden does not fall to his knees and proclaim his love for the Captain's wife. He does not present her with a ring or promise to remain devoted to her. Nope. He just lets her walk away.
The romantic part of me - the part that has not been jaded - wishes Warden would have just said, "I love you."
Now, I think of Warden and his lover as flawed, lonely individuals who, for a time, made each other feel less alone.
Cut to the final scene. The Captain's wife stands aboard a ship departing Hawaii. She is staring at the island as it melts into the horizon. It is clear she will carry her experiences with Warden with her for the rest of her life. Dramatic. Depressing.
I know the way the story ends but I still can't stop myself from wishing Warden would zip up on a chartered speed boat, coax the Captain's wife into joining him, and the two would race off into the sunset.
Perhaps I am less jaded than I thought. Could it be the Hopeless Romantic survives?