Hello ladies and gents
Today’s post is going to be a little different from usual. There’s no discussing hem lengths and lipstick shades involved. This is a subject that is very dear to me and hopefully you can take something from it.
I just finished watching George Seaton’s 1954 drama “The Country Girl” starring Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby. Grace Kelly received an Academy Award for her stellar performance in the film.
The film explores the efforts of Frank Elgin, a struggling washed-up actor to rise to the circumstances when he finally lands a lead role in a musical play, directed by Bernie Dodd who strongly believes in him from the very beginning. The film also explores his relationship with his wife Georgie who is the behind-the-scenes supporter and the one who carries the burden of a secret that looms over their marriage and is the cause for her husband’s demise.
The film starts with Frank auditioning for the role. Although the producer is quite weary and doubtful of how Frank will meet the expectations that come with such a big role, the director, Bernie, is convinced he’s the man they’ve been looking for. Later on in the film, we find out that although the producer is rough and hard to please, his worries were actually very legitimate.
Frank gives a great audition but when he finds out he just auditioned for the big lead he shies away and quickly storms out of the theater. This kind of behavior baffles Bernie. Later, when they rehearse Bernie tries to get Frank to try his hardest and soon discerns that there’s something that holds Frank back. He easily jumps to the conclusion that Frank has “problems at home” because “everyone does”. Or to put it another way, the core of Frank’s problems are his marriage troubles, his relationship with his wife, because that’s where a man’s issues usually derive from. So very early in the film, it is established that the reason for Frank’s lack of performance is his wife.
This assumption is validated by Frank himself, who confesses to being overpowered by his dominant wife who makes all the calls in their house. Frank gives Bernie a peek into his past, saying that once upon a time him and Georgie, his wife, were very happy and had a lovely son. Their happiness was shattered when their son died. Frank gives no further details as to how and why their son died. He just states that after that his wife, whose sole purpose in life was to take care of their son, becomes an alcoholic and even makes a suicide attempt. To ease her pain, he allows her to make all the decisions for him just so she can feel valuable and appreciated again.
Based on Frank’s words, you would assume that he is a very loving husband. At the time only a few women worked and their jobs were usually inferior to men’s, as they had no chance at obtaining a position of power. It was quite common for a woman’s sole purpose in life to be the feeding and caring of her family. Without having a job, a woman had nothing to herself, nothing to be proud of, nothing to make her feel competent and important other than being a good mother and housewife. Therefore when she loses her child, her whole world collapses. The only reason for her self-worth, motherhood, is eradicated. So her husband to save her from self-destruction tries to make her feel worthy again by giving her initiative when it comes to his professional choices.
Bernie however is not convinced Georgie’s choices are beneficiary to Frank’s career, quite the opposite actually. Bernie strongly assumes that her dominating her husband is the reason for his not-so-stellar career. Bernie keeps making bitter comments to Georgie, always advising her strongly to step back and let Frank be his own man, without her guidance.
Let’s take a moment to analyze why Bernie keeps suggesting Georgie doesn’t interfere with her husband’s work. It is heavily implied in the film that a woman’s opinion and guidance is not something to take into consideration. A woman should always be in the back, singing her man’s praises and lifting his spirit. It is not her job to make suggestions or criticize or give guidance. She’s not supposed to be the one her husband depends on, she’s the one who has to be dependent. A man should be in power calling the shots and the woman must follow. Georgie’s and Frank’s relationship dynamic is different and therefore unwanted. Georgie’s strong personality is a threat to male dominance. It is a threat to Frank and his career. At some point in the film, Bernie clearly states his opinion: “I don’t like strong women.”
At some point in the film, during one of the first conflicts between Bernie and Georgie, the saying “behind every great man there is a great woman” is discussed. Bernie dismisses it sarcastically by saying that Leonardo DaVinci, an example of a great man, didn’t have a wife yet he made it quite far on his own. Let’s take a moment to analyze why that argument is weak: Of course there isn’t a great woman behind EVERY great man and not every great man is great because of a great woman. So, in regards to that, Bernie is correct. But at the time, when women didn’t have many opportunities to make something of themselves, it wasn’t that uncommon for them to thrive through their husbands. What that means is that while apt, capable, intelligent women were not given the chance to excel at anything besides housekeeping, there were men with less skill but with more opportunities to do great things. Therefore women had to take the reins in order for their husbands to succeed. They basically realized their potential through their husbands. And that’s how SOME men became great.
Of course nowadays, things don’t quite work that way (most of the time). Women and men both have chances (how equal these chances are, well, that’s debatable) at having a career and when in a relationship, one must not interfere with the other person’s work. Besides when men and women have jobs of their own, they naturally have more concern about their business rather than their spouse’s.
But back to the film, we slowly start to gain more perspective as we start seeing how Frank acts in front of Bernie and the rest of the crew and how he does behind the scenes. Frank is afraid to voice his own concerns and fears or any complaints and he only does it through his wife. Bernie is led to believe that these fears expressed by Georgie, are not really Frank’s fears as she says but her own. Georgie’s credibility is repeatedly questioned and doubted by the males in the film.
While we keep getting told that Georgie is the bad guy and the threat to Frank’s well-being we start to understand that she’s quite the opposite. She’s not overpowering him; she’s simply making the decisions when he’s not capable of making them himself. He didn’t allow her to be the decision-maker in their home; he simply relied on her to be because he was in constant need of validation. Frank needed someone to be responsible for him. Why? That is answered by a flashback where we get to really find out how their son died.
In the flashback we see Georgie, Frank and their son very happy, while Frank is recording a song. Georgie looks lovingly at him and the little boy is dancing to his father’s song. Then Frank convinces Georgie to take their son to the zoo and Georgie leaves. Frank takes his son by the hand and when they’re about to leave a photographer asks him for one last shot. He tells him to pose by putting his hands on a disc in the wall. Frank lets go of his son’s hand, and that was his big mistake. Not paying any attention while having his picture taken, the boy rushes to the street, gets hit by a car and dies. Frank is traumatized by the event and blames himself over and over again. He then lives his life believing he murdered their son.
At one point in the present Georgie reminds him “it was an accident” and Frank denies it, still convinced he’s the one to blame. By this scene, we realize that Georgie never pinned the blame on him, but rather tried to ease it by encouraging him to be responsible which is the exact opposite to how she’s been presented throughout the film. It is Frank’s inner demons that keep him from finding himself and standing on his own two feet.
As the story continues to unravel, we see Frank drinking heavily, unable to keep it together, and constantly seeking validation. Somehow this is never visible to Bernie, who keeps on making remarks and accusations regarding Georgie’s interference. Unable to see the facts or give consideration to Georgie’s replies, he forces her to leave and go back to New York. Georgie makes excellent points, yet none is taken into account because she’s considered as this bad, evil woman who wants to step on her husband and make him her pet. She’s, again, the threat to the male dominance and that is her biggest flaw.
However there comes a moment when Frank lashes out and is arrested by the police. His drinking problem cannot be hidden anymore. Despite his arrest, Bernie still can’t see what Georgie has been saying all along: that Frank is a “cunning drunken”. Bernie still fails to realize that the only person responsible for Frank’s decline is Frank himself. Because of course, blaming the woman is the easy road to take. The woman is the punching bag for everyone. The one who has to take it all yet say nothing. The one trapped inside a nightmare yet thought as the villain.
The truth is revealed eventually. Georgie never had a breakdown, never became a drunk, never slit her wrists. That was Frank. Frank was the suicidal alcoholic who has been relying on his supporting wife ever since their son died. Georgie has always carried that burden. Having her world shattered by the loss of her child, she had to be strong for her man’s sake and carry him through for years and years. And yet instead of being thanked and appreciated for her unconditional love and support, she was continuously degraded by the men around her, simply because she had the nerve to carry her family through this tragedy.
Bernie then admits despite his earlier statements, that he was wrong and he apologizes. He then confesses having feelings for Georgie and kisses her. He admits to admiring her strength and says that he “didn’t know there were women like her”. He basically has a complete change of heart and in spite of his previous claim that “he doesn’t like strong women” he now admits that not only he likes them, but that he loves them. Was it his feelings then that made him be this hostile towards Georgie? Was it a way of fighting his love for her?
The thing that is also an interesting point to discuss is why men tend to be cold and rough with women they have feelings for. Is degrading a woman the way to resist her charm? That’s another question raised by this film. I think that having romantic feelings for someone makes you weak and vulnerable. Men hate feeling that way. The want to feel like they’re in power, they’re in control of a situation. Bernie scared of not being in control, kept humiliating and accusing Georgie because that way he felt he was regaining it. He not only felt that Frank’s male dominance was threatened by Georgie, but he felt his own male dominance was threatened too because of Georgie’s effect on him. Therefore he put her down on numerous occasions so he could suppress his emotions.
While Frank finds himself again and does well in the play, Bernie thinks that Georgie will now leave him. After all, all Georgie ever wanted was to see Frank stand on his own two feet. She couldn’t abandon him before because he needed her, but now she can. However, in the last scene we see her running to find her husband and it is implied that she chooses to stay with him. Even though she had every reason to leave him and every excuse, she remained devoted to him till the very end.
This leads us to conclude that Georgie was an extremely devoted and lovely wife who sacrificed her whole life by standing tall next to her alcoholic, insecurity-ridden husband. She managed to keep it together, when she could’ve been completely excused. Having lost her son, a mother is expected to have a breakdown. Everyone would understand. But she saw that she couldn’t afford to be weak or the stability of their home would tumble down. Her man turned into a child and the only thing she could do to help him was to take the lead and help him make decisions when he couldn’t. She was his rock. She mothered him, because she had no one else to mother and because her husband was in need of mothering. She was realistic and strong. A woman like that, having been given the chance, would excel professionally. But all she could do at the time was guide her husband and that she did.
I know what you’re all thinking at this point: how is this relevant to now? It’s no secret that women were oppressed by men in the 50s. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. But that doesn’t mean, everything is conquered and there’s nothing left to fight for.
I think what this movie taught me, among others of course, was to start noticing. Once you start to notice how the little things you consider to be insignificant are actually traced back to gender roles and male dominance, you will never be able to look at things the same way. The relationships portrayed in the movie are not as foreign to modern relationships. The views expressed in it are not that far off from many views that are expressed and adopted today. Take this article as an opportunity to reflect on how you feel about these. This is the first step to acknowledging the problem and therefore the first step to battling it.
If you made it this far and read the whole thing - wow, I love you. Hope you enjoyed it. I'd love to hear your thoughts so we can have a little discussion in the comments!