Talking Movies: Vintage Celluloid

Posted on August 9, 2009


Purple Rose of Cairo: Blurring the lines betwen fiction and life

Purple Rose of Cairo: Blurring the lines betwen fiction and life

‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ has got to be one of the charming movies I’ve ever come across.  It’s quaint flow and child-like simplicity can easily lull us into thinking of it like yet another romantic comedy.  But ‘Purple Rose…’ is much like a warm breeze, that floats about unobtrusively and yet you can’t feel unaffected by it.

Directed by Woody Allen in a deceptively simple and comedic narrative, the movies tells the story of  Cecilia played by Mia Farrow, a working class woman in an unhappy and abusive marriage who finds respite from the depression and grueling life in the glamorous movies that she watches every week at the local theatre. The more real life presses upon her, the more she escapes into the soothing darkness of talkies. It is during her fifth viewing of  ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’  that a character from the movie  Tom played by Jeff Daniels  jumps out of the movie screen claiming to have fallen in love with her. While panic ensues all around, Cecilia spends a day out of the dreams with Tom.  Meanwhile, Gil Sheppard, the actor who plays the character of Tom runs into Cecilia in the hopes of finding his errant on-screen alter ego and bringing him back. An odd love triangle follows with both the actor and the character having fallen for her forcing Cecilia to choose while having to contend with her irate husband ( Danny Aiello)

‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ explores some interesting themes.  It breaks the fourth wall both ways by having Tom travel into the real world and also Cecilia going into the movie.  The other characters in the movies, find themselves lost without the presence of  Tom and the momentum of the script to keep them going. They end up arguing with the audience, jumping into each other’s scenes and going off-page. The movie made in 1985 is set in the era of the depression. The starkness of the country and Cecilia’s own conditions forms a bleak contrast to the glamorous movies that she likes to lose herself in. This lends a bitter-sweet tone to the movie where while one is amused at the premise of the storyline it becomes evident that it isn’t quite a fairy tale romance. This further gets elucidated in the way that Tom fails to understand real world problems like lack of money or jobs.

The perfection of cinema that is seen on screen is juxtaposed with the selfish and egoistic side of Hollywood. Tom, the on-screen character is sweet, considerate and devoted to Cecelia while the actor who plays him is self-absorbed and arrogant. Even though he’s perfect for her, Tom’s naivety leads Cecilia to choose Gil Sheppard on account that he was from the real world. A choice she regrets in the end when she leaves home to go away to Hollywood with him only to find he’s left without her.  The climax finds Cecilia alone in the theatre watching yet another movie after which she would most likely return to her abusive husband.