The Way We Were

                                        Sydney Pollack Blogathon
Sydney Pollack was an actor/director/producer of both the small and big screens. He was prolific and popular and known best for his films that spanned across the last thirty decades of the twentieth century. Films like TOOTSIE (1982), OUT OF AFRICA (1985), THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY? (1969) and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) reflected his diversity in range, quality of compelling story-telling, and ability to make award-nominated and award-winning films. One film that stands out in his long filmography of excellence is THE WAY WE WERE (1973).

Sydney Pollack’s THE WAY WE WERE (1973) is a romantic drama that explores many questions; more than it answers. It’s the story of two very different people who fall in love. Kate Morosky (portrayed by Barbra Streisand) and Hubbell Gardiner (portrayed by Pollack fave Robert Redford) meet in college. Kate is an outspoken Jewish young woman who spends her time actively participating in left-wing politics and rallying against war efforts. But she’s drawn to the handsome charms and writing talents of Hubbell. Hubbell Gardiner is a clean-cut, athletic sort to whom everything has come easy.

Nearly seven years have passed now. It’s the end of World War II and they randomly bump into each other. Katie is clearly still very attracted to Hubbell. She has continued her passion in social-cause politics and works at a radio station. Hubbell has completed his first novel and spent his war years in the Navy as an officer in the South Pacific. Katie is fascinated by his writing. For Hubbell, his writing reflects his natural talents but also his lack of desire to put forth any effort to excel beyond what doesn’t already come easily. A rocky romantic journey has begun.

As their romantic fling turns more serious, their differences become punctuated whenever his friends display their complacent political views accompanied by his own insensitivity (in direct contrast to Katie’s fiery philosophies on social justice) and whenever Katie’s activism becomes inconvenient to Hubbell’s rise in well-to-do society. Despite these contentious conflicts, they marry as Katie continues to love and support Hubbell. Even as they move to California when Hubbell uses his writing skills as a Hollywood screenwriter- not the novelist she hoped he would become. Despite that disappointment, she has also sacrificed her outspoken nature and political activism to aide in his career climb and to secure their privileged spot in their glamorous circle. Tensions rise and morality is tested when the era of McCarthyism paranoia starts to pick off Hollywood writers to be blacklisted. During the witch-hunt Hubbell is satisfied to not rock the boat, blissful to remain on the safe path; yet Katie’s true political passions are ignited again. Katie is pregnant while Hubbell has an affair with his college sweetheart/best friend’s ex-wife. Upon discovery of his adultery, she initially offers to make their marriage work, affair an all, for their future child’s sake. But even blindly faithful Katie soon realizes their relationship has nothing left worth saving.

The most memorable scene in this film is assuredly the final. Years have passed again. The two paths cross by chance in New York City, in front of the Plaza Hotel. He reveals he has remained unchanged- writing sitcoms in Hollywood, content in his shallow mediocrity. He is traveling with a nameless and simple beauty. With political flyers in hand, she is confident and happily remarried, as she proudly shares a brief update of their daughter, Rachel. Katie invites him and his female companion for a drink. He declines but he looks at her with admiration and wonder of love lost. She generously responds, “your girl is lovely, Hubbell.”

When you watch THE WAY WE WERE (1973), there are many questions that pop into your head that delves into the universal experiences so many of us have dealt with in our own lives… Why do such polar opposites become drawn to each other? Why would such troubled lovers struggle to be together, even after copious evidence to part? Why would anyone sacrifice so much to remain in a doomed relationship? Why do people think they should change for someone else and why do they often think the other will change at all? Is loving someone ever worth abandoning your principles or identity? And certainly, how can they not see this from the very beginning? If the answers were simple or obvious, folks from all walks of life, in all generations, would not repeatedly deal with these challenges time and time again. This story is a very real story because it explores all these universal woes of the human experience and love.

There are many examples to their fate, their true characters and even hints of Katie’s humor throughout:
Hubbell: People are more important than their principles.
Katie: People ARE their principles.

Hubbell: You never give up, do you?
Katie: Only when I’m absolutely forced to. But I’m a very good loser…
Hubbell: Better than I am.
Katie: Well, I’ve had… more practice.

[on the topic of political causes advocacy]
Hubbell: I don’t see how you can do it.
Katie: And I don’t see how you can’t.

As an audience watching this fated romance unfold, we are either empathetic as we relate to some flawed aspect of their relationship as we compare to our own histories or perhaps more sympathetically, as we ponder the uncomfortably slow train wreck. The performances by Streisand and Redford are so believably compelling to their characters that even though our intellect tells us they don’t belong together, our hearts secretly wish they could, just SOMEHOW, make it work. We are if anything, a society replete with hopeful romantics; which is why this film was such a huge success. THE WAY WE WERE’s successes included earning Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score and Best Music, Original Song, a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, a Grammy for Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture, plus Oscar nominees… Best Actress in a Leading Role (Barbra Streisand), Best Art Direction- Set Direction, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. For many like me, it’s Barbra Streisand’s stirring rendition of the award-winning title song that remains a enduring favorite.

For me personally, I find this film to be a romantically heartfelt memory in such a bittersweet way. I’ll admit upfront that I’m a HUGE fan of the enormously talented Barbra Streisand. But as an outspoken and politically passionate person myself, I related to Katie very much. The average guy doesn’t understand my fiery call for social justice- just as Hubbell never really understood Katie. (Luckily I finally met and married a non-average man who understands me.) Katie desperately wanted Hubbell to be so much more than he could ever possibly know how. I think my mother related to Katie’s story too. My parents divorced when I was young. In the years that followed after the divorce, my mother would watch THE WAY WE WERE every year. And she cried every time, especially in that final scene. I didn’t understand why as a little girl- but many years later, I did. I think she, like so many, deeply understood the complexities of Katie and Hubbell.

*This post is part of the SYDNEY POLLACK BLOGATHON, as hosted by my classic film friend Ratanakar Sadasyula’s (aka @ScorpiusMaximus) blog, “Seetimaar- Diary of a Movie Lover”. Be sure to catch the full list of participating bloggers there from July 1-22nd. Enjoy!           


8 thoughts on “The Way We Were

  1. I think there's a tendency to write THE WAY WE WERE off as a soapy melodrama, but, as you say, it's really about identity and society…it's just wrapped up in a gorgeous package. Also, I cry at the end every time (and I always feel lucky that I met a non-average man who understands). Great post, Kellee.


  2. I've only ever seen the final scene of this movie, where they meet on that New York street. I wasn't impressed by Redford in that scene, but after reading your post I realize that was his character's personae.Looks like one that should be seen from the beginning, especially since it poses such thought-provoking questions about relationships.Wonderful post, Kellee. 🙂


  3. Thanks so much, Paula! Very happy you read and enjoyed my post. 🙂 I agree, THE WAY WE WERE seems to get a bad reputation as glossy, gushy romantic soap but I choose to look at it differently. I think it has a LOT to do with not losing your identity (a common problem for many women) and sense of true self- not to mention the whole issue of settling for less than we deserve. And I'm thrilled that you too have a non-average man in your life! Thanks again, sweetie!


  4. I'm so pleased that my post has inspired you to see this film in its entirety. I do believe wholeheartedly that this movie really poses these questions about relationships, love and identity. It's also one of the very first films to tackle the McCarthy blacklisting topic. As a matter of fact, before asked to make huge editing cuts, the sequences covering that topic were much longer originally. Thanks again for your kind commentary!!


  5. I can't tell you how much I *LOVE* this post! TWWW is my favorite movie of all time, for so many reasons. But your last paragraph summed up the biggest reason — like Katie, some of us aren't "easy," and we don't have "the right style." You nailed the beauty of that last scene: Katie remains vibrant because she understands herself and continues to challenge herself, whereas a pallid Hubbell settles. ("In a way he was like the country he lived in; everything came too easily to him.")While it's Streisand's movie, we can't discount the importance of her chemistry with Redford. Much as I love Babs, she has completely rolled over her leading men. (Ryan O'Neal, Michael Sarrazin, Omar Sharif … need I go on?) Finally, in Redford and Hubbell, she had a romantic partner who was worthy of her attention. In fact, when you consider the sleazy move Hubbell pulled with Carol Ann (a double betrayal, actually), you could say Redford makes Hubbell more attractive than he deserves to be. This movie is also important to me as part of the Redford/Pollack collaboration. That remote romantic archetype, the love interest pursued by the leading lady we also saw in "Out of Africa" and "This Property Is Condemned" and "The Electric Horseman."I miss Sydney Pollack. All his movies are so compelling visually. Remember that scene in TWWW where Hubbell and JJ are drinking beer on the boat? The camera pulls back to show us the enormity of the sea and the expanse of Hubbell's love/respect/longing for Katie … Sigh. And thank you for a still I'd never seen before! (The one where they're on the grass.)Great post!


  6. WOW~ what an amazing compliment! Thank you! Thrilled you enjoyed it so much and gratifying to see that you also see my points of view so well regarding this film. It's interesting how many people refer to Redford's performance as somehow unworthy because it was bland yet he actually played Hubbell perfectly. Streisand was vibrant as Katie should be and she was very attracted to Hubbell because she chose to see his potential, not who he settled to be. Redford played Hubbell complacently as truly characteristically accurate. It is also a beautiful film, as you aptly make note. Yes, Redford and Pollack had quite a collaborative run of tremendous films… We all benefited! Thanks so much for reading and sharing!!


  7. Kellee, I don't remember the film all that well as it is many years since I've seen it, but do remember loving the novel which Arthur Laurents adapted from his own screenplay. I think he put back in a lot of the material which was cut out – it's many years since I read the book, too, but I think I used to read the last page endlessly as I remember it quite vividly! Your posting has got me wanting to see the film again soon – I definitely think the story is far more than a soap, and agree with you that Katie is torn between her beliefs and her love for Hubbell. Judy


  8. Thanks, Judy! Happy that a fan of the book actually saw positive aspects from my review from the film and even inspires you to see the film! If you see the film sometime- please let me know what you think! Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!


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