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About Jon
Thank You For Not ...

1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
2) personally attacking other commenters
3) baiting other commenters
4) arguing for the sake of arguing
5) discussing politics
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The Misfits
2005-03-01 10:00
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

When Arthur Miller passed away two weeks ago, the obits focused rightfully on his plays but glossed heedlessly over The Misfits, dismissing it merely as the movie he wrote for his former wife, Marilyn Monroe.

It was so much more.

misfits2.jpgTime and again in tense physical and emotional struggles, The Misfits takes the guileless idealism that we are born with, tears it down, and then rebuilds it. It shows how crushing the disappointment can be when the world does not live up to our expectations, and yet how few of us can resist trying to reinvent the world so it will. It shows how flawed we are and yet how sympathetic, how deserving of rescue, we can be. It shows the battles of our lives.

If it isn't clear how this film relates to Dodger Thoughts and baseball, consider how often the team and game we love seem to let us down, and how often so many of us (though certainly not all of us) return to them, reconfiguring our passion for them in what we hope will be a workable equation. And how often we are rewarded for our pains.

Though there are some who consider the screenplay flawed, The Misfits features Miller's gifts at full flower, rocking firmly back and forth between the seduction of idealism and the limits of idealism.

The movie (spoiler alert, if such a thing applies to a 44-year-old movie) begins in then-present-day Reno with Roslyn (played by Monroe) getting a divorce. Soon, she is with an old friend, Isabelle (Thelma Ritter) and a new friend, Guido (Eli Wallach) in a half-built purgatory of a shack, miles and miles from town. Roslyn listens to Guido describe his wife, whose premature, fluky death caused him to leave the building of the home unfinished.

Guido: She stood behind me 100 percent. Uncomplaining as a tree.
Roslyn: Maybe that's what killed her. I mean, a little complaining helps sometimes.

This conversation comes after Isabelle, helping Roslyn prepare for her divorce, illustrates her own surrender, her choice to revel in the beauty of fallen ideals ...

Isabel: This'll be my 77th time witnessing a divorce. Two sevens - that's lucky!

... and soon after, advising Roslyn to follow her path.

Isabel: Dear girl, you've got to stop thinking you can change things.

Marilyn1.jpgRoslyn doesn't give in. Not yet, anyway. She continues to gently nudge the peace Guido has made over his wife's limitations - for example, his wife's clumsiness at dancing. Superficially meek, inwardly a fighter - a crusader - Roslyn wants Guido to understand that he can do better. We can all do better.

Roslyn: Why didn't you teach her to be graceful?
Guido: You can't teach that.
Roslyn: How do you know? ... I only meant, if you loved her, you could have taught her anything. I mean, we're all dying, all the time, all the husbands and all the wives. ... We're not all teaching what we really know, are we?

The stage is set for Roslyn and Gay Langland, played by Clark Gable. (Like Monroe, Gable was making his last screen appearance before his death.) They have met briefly before in the story, but now they are just beginning to grasp the depth in each other. Suddenly, Gay, a cowboy in 1961, a man who has journeyed further and further to the fringes to retain his ideals, realizes that Roslyn is the ideal for everyone else - at a cost to herself.

Clark Marilyn.jpgGay: It's almost kind of an honor sitting next to you. You just shine in my eyes. That's my true feeling, Roslyn. ... What makes you so sad? I think you're the saddest girl I ever met.
Roslyn: You're the first man who ever said that. I'm usually told how happy I am.
Gay: That's because you make a man feel happy.

It's this perception that gives Roslyn a proper venue for her idealism - that rekindles her belief.

Now of course, this was not a movie about baseball. This was a movie about life and love. Pause for a moment, though, and consider that we've all had moments where baseball has let us down, where we've asked ourselves why we waste our time following this game.

We need a place to land. To rest. To rekindle our faith, even if it's a diversion.

Roslyn: Let's just live, like you said in the bar. I don't know where I am yet.

Roslyn and Gay shack up in the shack. They even do a little sprucing up, a little building, a little planting. The way one might express fascination with the seemingly perfect proportions of the baseball diamond - 90 feet between bases - Roslyn expresses wonder at the simple lives of vegetables.

Roslyn: I never really saw anything grow before. What tiny seeds they are - and yet they know they're supposed to be lettuces.

Soon after, Gay comments:

Gay: You have the gift of life, Roslyn. Rest of us are just looking for a place to hide and watch it all go by.

Roslyn's idealism is infectious.

Perhaps by this point, you're thinking that I'm too idealistic, drawing Ray Kinsella-like homilies about baseball from a movie. And you're half-right. And in some ways that's my point. I shouldn't be doing it - they probably won't hold in the end. It's too idealistic. But I'm doing it anyway.

Perce.jpgRoslyn's faith finally clashes with Gay's reality. The four principals pick up a fifth on their way to a county fair - a rodeo cowboy and old friend of Gay's named Perce, played by Montgomery Clift. Via Perce, Roslyn is exposed to the rodeo for the first time. It is an unromanticized exposure - Perce lands and hurts his head badly. It is a dangerous game - and she objects.

Gay: You wouldn't have a rodeo otherwise.
Roslyn: Well then you shouldn't have a rodeo. ...
Gay: Now don't start running things, Roslyn.
Roslyn: I don't understand - he's your friend.

One person takes the bad with the good, the other can't understand it. And the game - or the game player himself, Perce, doesn't know any better.

Roslyn: Why are you doing it?
Perce: I put in for it - I'm entered. ... I don't mind getting busted up. ...
Gay: We all got to go sometime. Man who's too afraid to die is too afraid to live.

Perce is as fatalistic as Roslyn is idealistic. But again, one affects the other. In the next moment, Perce thanks Roslyn for crying for him - and Roslyn hints at her loss of faith in Gay.

Perce: I can't figure you floating around (here) ... Do you belong to Gay?
Roslyn: I don't know where I belong.
Perce: I don't like to see the way they grind up women out here. A lot of them don't mind, do they?
Roslyn: Some do.
Perce: Don't you let them grind you up here. ... How come you got such trust in your eyes?
Roslyn: Do I?
Perce: Like you was just born.
Roslyn: Oh, no.

From almost the beginning of the movie, Gay and Guido extoll the virtues of not becoming addicted to everyday work. "Anything's better than wages" is their mantra. One of the ways they avoid wages is to periodically round up wild mustangs for sale. In years past, they might have sold these mustangs for people to ride. But times change, and now the biggest customers for mustangs are pet food manufacturers.

For Gay, he's just rolling with the times. For Roslyn, this is the Black Sox and steroids rolled into one.

Mustang.jpgGay: It all got changed around. See, I'm doing the same thing I always did.
Roslyn: You know what you're doing isn't right, don't you?
Gay: Honey, if I didn't do it, someone else would.
Roslyn: I don't care about the others. ... I don't want to hear it.
Gay: Honey, nothing can live unless something dies.
* * *
Gay: I don't want to lose you. But you've gotta help me a little bit. Because I can't put on that this is all as bad as you make it. All I know is everything else is wages. I hunt these to keep myself a free man. That's why you like me, isn't it?
Roslyn: I liked you because you were kind.
Gay: I haven't changed.
Roslyn: Yes. This changes it.
Gay: Honey, a kind man can kill.
Roslyn: No, he can't.
Gay: Well, if it's bad, maybe you've got to take a little bad with the good, else you'll be running for the rest of your life.
Roslyn: What is there to stop for? You're just like everyone else.

What now?

Gay makes the comment that the few remaining mustangs are "nothing but misfit horses." These words, being spoken by a cowboy in 1961, crystalize the movie's irony. Misfit horses, misfit cowboys.

Misfit sport, misfit fans.

What now?

The discouragement to which Roslyn succumbs - and perhaps we can say she plays the role of the idealistic fan broken - begins to engender seepage of regret in the game and its players. First, Perce. Gay, Perce and Guido learn that for all their efforts and angst, the yield will be only six mustangs.

Gay: Six is six. Better than wages, isn't it? I said, better than wages, isn't it?
Perce (unconvincingly) Anything's better than wages. (thinking) Tell you the truth, I don't even know about rodeos anymore.
Gay: Boy, I'm beginning to smell wages all over you.
Perce: I sure wish my old man hadn't died.
Gay: When you get through wishing, all there's left is doin' a man's work.

Guido, who has been nursing a crush on Roslyn but ceding the chase to the more attractive Gay (you know I'm aware that you don't see first names like this much anymore), now spots an opening to rescure Roslyn from her despair. But his professed regret is transparently cynical - some would argue Seligian.

Guido: Give me a reason (to stop this). I've been waiting. I'm going out of my mind with waiting.
Roslyn: A reason? You, a sensitive fella. So sad. You have to get something to be human? You never felt anything for anybody in your life. All you know's the sad words. You could blow up the world, and all you'd feel sorry for is yourself.

Finally, having had time to think things over, Gay is about to be converted. He is about to find another path - go further out in the fringes, away even from mustanging, in order to preserve his connection to Roslyn and her inherent idealism. But just before he can, Roslyn screams.

Roslyn: KILLERS! MURDERERS! LIARS! You're only happy if you can see something die! Why don't you kill yourselves and be happy?! You with your God's country! Freedom! I pity you! You're three dear sweet dead men!

Gay refuses to follow after this browbeating. He returns to the chase of the mustangs. He truly nearly gets killed being dragged by one. (In fact, many speculate that Gable, performing his own stunt, hastened his own death shortly after filming.)

But he ties the horse up. And then he lets it go.

Gay: Don't want nobody making up my mind for me, that's all. Damn 'em all. They changed it. Changed it all around. Smeared it all over with blood. I'm finished with it. ... I just gotta find another way to be alive, that's all - if there is one, anymore.

We can always try to do better. It just means a harder life. It means sacrifice. The Misfits dramatizes this inherent conflict. Sacrifice on the primary level is less than ideal, so life is less than ideal. But we can still make a better life through it.

Marilyn final.jpgHow often I take the easy way out myself. But I have to remember, in a changing world, in a changing sport, we need to continue to reevaluate right and wrong, as much as we can. And choose right, as much as we can. That can involve life or death situations, or it can involve what stats and observations to use to evaluate a ballplayer's talent. It can mean the difference between love and loss, or the difference between grilled hot dogs at the ballpark and boiled.

It can mean the smallest degree of improvement, or it can mean everything over nothing.

Roslyn: Gay, if there could be one person in the world, a child who could be brave from the beginning. ... How do you find your way back in the dark?
Gay: Just head for that big star straight on. The highway's under it. It'll take us right home.

Baseball is my favorite game. The Misfits is my favorite movie. Arthur Miller is gone, and I felt I needed to write something.

Images gratefully scrounged from: www.stellargraffiti.com, www.usuario.tiscali.es, www.inicia.es, www.kinountersternen.at, www.filmkrant.nl, www.trondheim-filmklubb.no

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