The Saddest Girl You Ever Met: Revisiting The Misfits

Some films don't end as they should and are forgiven.

Last year, Tom Cruise should have died in Edge Of Tomorrow (Dir. Doug Liman). That's what should have happened. There's a different ending, but the film is such a refreshingly fun and smart blockbuster throughout that the cop-out Hollywood ending can be forgiven. Just about. 

The Misfits, The John Huston film of Arthur Miller's screenplay from 1961 doesn't end as it should and is forgiven for a different reason. To end the film logically would be to enter a black void from which it would be incredibly hard to return. This film about broken people who cannot help but break each other careers towards oblivion in a cocktail of rage, insecurity, bitterness and loneliness.

The layers of sadness and despair pour from the screen and overwhelm. Most have entered the cultural consciousness to varying degrees. 

Arthur Miller writes a character for his wife, that is his wife, causing her to perform in a maelstrom of the futility that is his love for her. He, like the audience that watches and watched Marilyn, thinks he can care for, understand and tame her. But she cannot be, because she is not of hers, or any time that has yet been lived. 

She exists above The Misfits. Clift is a Misfit due to his sexuality. Gable is a misfit because of his age. The closest emotionally to his character in a literal sense, he is truly a man out of time, left behind. Wallach is a misfit because he doesn't fit in the triangle. He is perennially outside. He is also the voice of Miller most clearly, directing an ire at what he adores but cannot have. He seeks to destroy, out of rejected and impotent lust. 

Marilyn is the misfit. She doesn't fit in the film, she doesn't fit on our planet. Destined to always be alone. We never knew what to do with her so we consumed her, as she is consumed here.

Watching the film in this age it still rages. Poetic dialogue throughout. A dustiness that is rivalled in Mad Max: Fury Road but that seeps into the pores even more so. A timid beauty that emerges in fleeting bursts. Very few films have ever got close to speaking to 'the moment' as vitally as this. Thanks to Marilyn when 'the moment' comes she lifts it to the stratosphere and for a moment suggests that things may work out. 

We know they won't though. They can't. Not for the wild ones, the mavericks, the true outsiders.

The sequence with the wrangling of the mustangs still rankles and stings. It's so real. Because it was. Real horses being wrangled. It smarts because it doesn't happen anymore. The Misfits now, is not merely a lament for a time and type of people that have passed but for a time and type of cinema, namely a cinema of scale that feels alive and real and tactile.

Clearly wrangling horses in the way depicted here is problematic but we live now so distanced from so much on screen that there's little chance to feel anything. That's one of the reasons Fury Road hits so hard. You can feel the dust, the sweat. In The Misfits you can smell the booze, you can taste the lemonade, you can touch the fabric of Marilyn's cherry summer dress as she bats the ball. 

And it's done with such love. It's sad, and angry, and bitter but still beneath it all beats hearts that love and that need love. That's why the merest glimmer of hope that appears at the finale of the film is forgiven. There are no victories here. Everyone is adrift and out of place and left behind by the world. Giving them a glint, or some of them a glint, is not a cop-out. It's a gesture of love, and of thanks, for being wild and trying to be free in a world that won't allow anything raw to thrive.