The plot is predicated on a chain of coincidences i.e., Baxter’s smitten with Fran, who’s in love with Mr. Sheldrake, who needs a key from Baxter to rendezvous with Fran. And the line between coincidence and contrivance is a dangerously fine one. So how do Wilder and Diamond keep the narrative consistently believable? I think the key is introducing a strand of plot and paying it off later. If we learned that Fran was Sheldrake’s mistress in tandem with Baxter, we may feel that a love triangle like this is too perfectly designed to incite conflict. But because Wilder establishes the affair early-on, there’s no need to suspend disbelief when becomes more crucial to the plot.
Equally vital, I think, is the efficiency and expressiveness of detail, i.e., Fran’s broken mirror (“Makes me look the way I feel”). This marked the first of many times I burst into tears during this film from the sheer amount of pathos Wilder and Diamond manage to pack into one line of dialogue. Not only does it allow for Baxter’s realization of Fran’s secret, but it also tidily sums up Fran’s entire pathology. Her broken reflection reflects her broken self-image. And why was the mirror broken in the first place? She threw it during an argument with Sheldrake, who she can’t detach from because of that same broken self-image thus linking her lack of self-worth to her relationship with him in one melancholy image.
To an extent, I feel like I am Baxter— the needy, meek, hopeless romantic who consoles the girl about the guy she’s hung up on, rather than being the guy she’s hung up on. And so I’m rather critical about how these scenarios are portrayed. I think I’ve spent a lot of my life thinking that if become a doormat for a girl, she’ll fall for me. And having realized how unhealthy of a relationship model that is, I was worried The Apartment may perpetuate this misconception. But to my relief, the closing minutes of the film especially the closing line (“Shut up and deal”) suggest that Fran isn’t just running back to him because things with Sheldrake didn’t work out, nor does it suggest she just likes enjoys the attention. It sincerely feels like she’s fallen for him. I also think it’s crucial that Baxter is only allowed to be with the woman he loves after he’s learned to love himself. His act of defiance with Mr. Sheldrake both literally and figuratively leads to the romantic ending. And for someone who often pursues love without loving himself, it’s wonderful to see a film that reminds me of these truths I often pay the price for forgetting.
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