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Darren H

Make Way for Tomorrow

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I was just looking over the list of films I've watched in 2010, and the stand-out by a fairly wide margin is Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow. It had been one of my holy grails for years -- one of those films that was impossible to see and whose reputation had ballooned to impossible-to-match proportions -- so I was thrilled when Criterion announced its release on DVD and, in the near future, blu-ray.

Maybe the best compliment I can give Tomorrow is that it was the direct inspiration for an A&F perennial favorite, Ozu's Tokyo Story, and having now seen both films a couple times, I don't hesitate at all in saying that I prefer McCarey's film. The styles are radically different. McCarey's is a studio film that wears its sentiments on its sleave; Ozu is Ozu. But, I'm telling you, Make Way for Tomorrow is one of the greats. As Orson Welles famously said about it: “My god! I watched it four times and cried my eyes out every time! That movie would make a stone cry!"

I consider this must viewing for anyone interested in films about marriage, family, aging, death, and love.

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Darren, thanks so much. I'm writing an article on McCarey right now, so I'll see what I can do about tracking this one down.

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[Herzog]If you don't love this film, I'll eat my shoe.[/Herzog]

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By the way, Steven, if you could please see this before the Top 100 nomination period closes on 12/17, that would be great. I'm looking for a second. ;)

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By the way, Steven, if you could please see this before the Top 100 nomination period closes on 12/17, that would be great. I'm looking for a second. ;)

Well, I'm not Steven, but I'll happily second this nomination. I've watched this one twice since Criterion released it last year and am convinced that its status has been well-earned. I can imagine this being just the type of film that could gain a wide following among the A&F community, and I would happily recommend it to pretty much anyone.

It's the kind of movie that sneaks up on you a bit, but when it arrives, boy does it ever. McCarey is so patient and subtle in laying the track for where this film is going. And when it arrives, it is more than worth it.

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Netflix's Best Guess for me: 4.9.

Top of the queue it is.

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SPOILERS (sort of, I guess)

McCarey is so patient and subtle in laying the track for where this film is going. And when it arrives, it is more than worth it.

Absolutely. I would hate to see this film at a public screening with audience members who are: a. suspicious of unironic emotion and/or b. too young to have experienced a long-term, intimate relationship. The final act of this film is so beautifully realized and so brutally tragic, I literally started to cry just describing it to my wife a few hours after seeing it for the first time. That emotion is earned, though. It's not maudlin or pitying or manufactured.

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My viewing of MAKE WAY... occurred early in the morning on a Sunday. A few minutes after the film ended, my wife and daughters woke up and made their way downstairs. I was pretty useless, and the sight of my swollen eyes took them all aback.

Thinking about the film made me reflect on what it is that makes us cry at art. Obviously, there's the most common scenario, where we cry at the sight of something that's sad. And there's crying caused by seeing some sort of impending, unstoppable tragedy. Maybe that kind seems indistinguishable from the first type, the sentimental cry, but the most acute example I can think of is in DANCER IN THE DARK, where we know at some point that no matter how things seem to have a chance at working out, it ends nowhere for Bjork but in the noose. McCarey's film is sad partly because it is sentimental and tragic, sure, but there's something else about the film that is what I'm responding to when it reduces me to tears: I'm being confronted by an unassailable, terrible truth.

The particular truth, I guess, can seem sort of trite when stated other ways, like in Harry Chapin's songs, but in this film it comes on hard and swift. I think I first felt its bite when I stumbled on the Grimm fairy tale "Grandmother's Table," and I don't think I would have known that it was true before I had children of my own. It's this: Despite all the love and joy that come from family life, there's an unresolvable sadness to the parent-child relationship because it is always unequal. Parents and children are always one or the other increasing and decreasing. Our parents decreased as we increased, and so forth. Divine love is premised on this sort of permanent dependence, and fittingly so. We could never be God's equals, and yet that dependence, we when recognize it, makes us whole. Among humans, though, it works to separate us. This dependence--children on parents, then parents on children--is a reproductive and nurturing necessity, but it is also a division that puts some pall on human communion. It's not ultimately just about the way in which the children all find a way to slough off their responsibilities to the couple, or the way in which the mother burdens them, then tries to let them off the hook because her love is bigger than her knowledge of their flaws. Rather, the role-switching (from pursuer to pursued, from idleness to labor and back) and the chronological distance makes it near-impossible for the parents and children to deal with each other from a position of equality, and that unequality is what makes so easy the introduction of soft and hard cruelties and neglect in one form or another. Yes, the children are disappointing, and modernization, industrialization and the devaluing of the extended family work these angles roughly, but the real harshness is endemic and unrelated. The children can't possibly know what it is like to be old and faced with the prospect of being alone or without one's spouse, and the parents have an imperfect, jaded recollection of their youth and can't know what it is to be their children's age. Empathy can make this gulf tolerable, but the gulf still exists between men and women and the others who they love more than anything. It is pushed through and out the other side in the cycle of birth, life and death. Always renewing, always discarding. Make way for tomorrow.

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Well, assuming Make Way for Tomorrow finds a spot on the new list, I think we've found the author for the write-up.

You're killing me, Russ. My relationship with my parents isn't as close or as tender as any of us would like it to be. Now that I've become a dad, I look at Rory and am almost overwhelmed by how deeply and powerfully I desire to have a close, lifelong relationship with her. And yet, it's not like a switch has been thrown in this other essential bond in my life. I have a new understanding of my parents' desire to know me, and I have a different kind of empathy for their marriage, but it doesn't make the hard parts of building intimacy with them any easier. That's the everyday tragedy at the heart of the film, I guess.

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I worry sometimes that my film criticism is just talking about myself, and this is one of those times, clearly. But here's something solely about the film: I love, love, love McCarey's decision to not show us the actual reunion. Isn't that the sort of decision that separates the highest-order artist from a common melodramatic? He knew that that moment, no matter how well-executed, would become the emotional climax of sorts, so he skips it and takes us right to them walking together in the park, enjoying that simplest pleasure.

You're killing me, Russ. My relationship with my parents isn't as close or as tender as any of us would like it to be. Now that I've become a dad, I look at Rory and am almost overwhelmed by how deeply and powerfully I desire to have a close, lifelong relationship with her. And yet, it's not like a switch has been thrown in this other essential bond in my life. I have a new understanding of my parents' desire to know me, and I have a different kind of empathy for their marriage, but it doesn't make the hard parts of building intimacy with them any easier. That's the everyday tragedy at the heart of the film, I guess.

Yes. And I'm right there, too, trying to figure out how to regard my parents with the measure of tenderness and attention that I'd long to have my daughters give me when they are adults. But saying the obvious-- that we have to work at it-- is part of what's most painful. You don't have to work at loving your daughter, or I, mine. It's so fluid and automatic.

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Darren, thanks so much. I'm writing an article on McCarey right now, so I'll see what I can do about tracking this one down.

While we are on this thread, just thought I would let you know that Leo McCarey had no involvement in A Night at the Opera. In your review you had him as the director, but it was Sam Wood!

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Darren, thanks so much. I'm writing an article on McCarey right now, so I'll see what I can do about tracking this one down.

While we are on this thread, just thought I would let you know that Leo McCarey had no involvement in A Night at the Opera. In your review you had him as the director, but it was Sam Wood!

Thanks, Ben. That must go back to the pre-CMS days of HTML cut-and-past. I'd guess McCarey's director credit from Duck Soup was accidentally transferred to A Night at the Opera.

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I guess this is a film I need to see. No idea how I'll get hold of it, though.

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Ryan, if you end up not being able to buy/borrow/Netflix/library-loan the film, PM me. I'd be happy to lend you my DVD by mail. And if Steve can't get his hands on a copy, you can mail it to him, too.

I popped the DVD in Saturday night for a second viewing and realized that I'd either internalized or subconsciously plagiarized some of McCarey's written intro in my above post. He talks right there about the "gulf," as he calls it, between generations.

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Watched it this afternoon. So much of the movie is perched on the edge of preciousness and sentimentality, I was sure it would slip into that gulf, but it never did. I thought the kids' roles were underwritten, and I didn't care about them that much, but the movie was really effective when it focused on Barkley and Lucy. They're one of my favorite married couples in any movie.

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Watched it this afternoon. So much of the movie is perched on the edge of preciousness and sentimentality, I was sure it would slip into that gulf, but it never did. I thought the kids' roles were underwritten, and I didn't care about them that much, but the movie was really effective when it focused on Barkley and Lucy. They're one of my favorite married couples in any movie.

Agreed - I just saw this for the first time on Wednesday, on the strength of the high praise given here, and I'd be hard pressed to think of a purer, more beautiful screen romance.

My Dad and I pass movie recommendations back and forth quite frequently (he's introduced me to many great films - I saw my first Kurosawa film with him). Given his love of Golden Age Hollywood classics and given this film's subject matter, it felt especially good to suggest this one to him.

Edited by Andrew

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My Dad and I pass movie recommendations back and forth quite frequently (he's introduced me to many great films - I saw my first Kurosawa film with him). Given his love of Golden Age Hollywood classics and given this film's subject matter, it felt especially good to suggest this one to him.

Yeah? My mom's a classic Hollywood buff, too-- I can count on her to be able to tell me something about most any studio release from 1940-1960-- but I asked her once if she knew McCarey's film, and when she said she didn't, I let it drop. I could easily arrange a movie night for us to watch it together, but-- man--I just don't know. I'd almost think I would be less uncomfortable watching a porno with my mom than watching MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW with her.

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Yeah? My mom's a classic Hollywood buff, too-- I can count on her to be able to tell me something about most any studio release from 1940-1960-- but I asked her once if she knew McCarey's film, and when she said she didn't, I let it drop. I could easily arrange a movie night for us to watch it together, but-- man--I just don't know. I'd almost think I would be less uncomfortable watching a porno with my mom than watching MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW with her.

Same goes for my parents. But could I watch Make Way for Tomorrow with them? I've never had the guts to try.

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I'm giving it to my dad for Christmas. His mom moved into a nursing home a few years ago, and his dad lives in a retirement/assisted living apartment.

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In a curious bit of counter-programing, TCM will air MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW at 10:00 p.m. EST on Christmas Eve.

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In a curious bit of counter-programing, TCM will air MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW at 10:00 p.m. EST on Christmas Eve.

I'm DVRing it right now. Does it work as a Christmas film?

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In a curious bit of counter-programing, TCM will air MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW at 10:00 p.m. EST on Christmas Eve.

I'm DVRing it right now. Does it work as a Christmas film?

It depends - I think it would make a fascinating double feature with It's a Wonderful Life, as a charming, reflective film to view alone or with one's signficant other - we would all be tremendously blessed to have a bond like the lead couple on display here. However, I suspect it possesses too few kinetics to hold kids' attention and I'm inclined to agree with Russ that it might feel too awkward to view with older generations.

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In a curious bit of counter-programing, TCM will air MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW at 10:00 p.m. EST on Christmas Eve.

I'm DVRing it right now. Does it work as a Christmas film?

It depends - I think it would make a fascinating double feature with It's a Wonderful Life, as a charming, reflective film to view alone or with one's signficant other - we would all be tremendously blessed to have a bond like the lead couple on display here. However, I suspect it possesses too few kinetics to hold kids' attention and I'm inclined to agree with Russ that it might feel too awkward to view with older generations.

Let me rephrase. Is Christmas a dominant theme or the setting of one of the film's centerpieces?

I'm not talking about age-appropriateness here. Lots of Christmas movies out there not appropriate for children. (Remember the Night, Holiday Affair, The Cheaters(1945), The Gathering (1977), etc.).

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Let me rephrase. Is Christmas a dominant theme or the setting of one of the film's centerpieces?

I'm not talking about age-appropriateness here. Lots of Christmas movies out there not appropriate for children. (Remember the Night, Holiday Affair, The Cheaters(1945), The Gathering (1977), etc.).

No, it's not about Christmas at all, that I can remember. It's about family and marriage.

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If I recall correctly, the opening family scene is at a Christmas gathering, an apt setting for one of the film's themes of appearances versus reality of honor, unity, and compassion within families.

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