‘The Apartment’ — Why It’s Not a Romcom; It’s Deeper Than That.
Spoilers for ‘The Apartment’.
I adore ‘The Apartment’ (1960) although yesterday I read a Guardian article calling it a ‘romcom’ and how the audience feels elated when the two leads end up together. It’s a nice piece, well written and I admire the writer’s passion for the film… but I do believe their interpretation of the end is somewhat naive and completely inaccurate because, for me, C.C. Baxter and Miss Kubelik do NOT, and possibly should not, end up together at the end.
The reason ‘The Apartment’ works so well is that it isn’t a rom-com. Indeed, you could almost say it’s a warning against romance because, after all, everyone in the film who’s driven by their passions ends up hurting someone else or being hurt. No, for me it’s about two broken people saving each other’s lives in a sea of abuse and that’s vitally more important than becoming a couple. Now this very possibly the start of a beautiful friendship for Baxter and Kubelik and you never know what might happen down the road for these two, but to say they are now together, or even that them being so would be a good idea, doesn’t work for me. It lacks depth, nuance, honesty and is out of step with the rest of the film.
Notice the way Kubelik responds to Baxter when he tells her he loves her. “Shut up and deal” is her response with no sign of potential physical intimacy on her part, besides the fact she’s now effectively shut the topic, and the film, down. This is a woman who is more than likely sick to death of love, relationships and men and needs some time being single and to heal her heart more than anything else. She loves Baxter but for a reason that’s more important than romance — he has demonstrated to her that not all men are assholes and to be told ‘I love you’ and for it to come from a genuine place of honesty and trust is vitally important for her and as healing as his saving her life earlier. But to now jump his bones would ruin growth and meaning completely.
Likewise for Baxter who, again, ends up with something more important than love or a girlfriend — he has learned to become a mensch, a decent human being, and this is why Kubelik loves him… just maybe not in the way he’d ultimately desires. But Baxter has grown, he has stood up to his bullies and the people who used him and now he has finally told the woman he loves that he loves her, possibly the last step needed in his growth. It is this act of doing so, of telling her he loves her, that is the important aspect here, not her reply and MacLaine’s character knows this which is why it touches her heart, a heart that has only just been glued back together.
After all we tell people we love them, we feel compelled to do so, not to hear ‘I love you’ back or to gain anything from it (that would be a highly suspect reason to do so) but simply because we do love them and all we want in return is to know we have been heard and acknowledged, and Kubelik most certainly has heard Baxter. But her body language and reply suggest now that he’s said it that that’s that; now let’s play cards. There’s a chance he might never get to tell her again and if he does, if he pushes his luck, she might not respond so kindly next time. If Baxter can accept this he will, indeed, have become a mensch and Kubelik knows this even if Baxter doesn’t himself, at least not quite just yet. It’s a deeper and more profound connection these two have and this is the reason the film moves me to tears.
When we say ‘I love you’ we don’t know how life is going to respond. Sometimes all we can do is shut up and deal.