Three Shots: The Apartment
The Apartment (1960)
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
Cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle
I very often stay on at the office and work for an extra hour or two, especially when the weather is bad. It’s not that I’m overly ambitious; it’s just a way of killing time, until it’s all right for me to go home. You see, I have this little problem with my apartment.
Has any other filmmaker devoted so much to stories of the lonely as Billy Wilder? Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, The Lost Weekend, The Apartment- these are films about adrift, some by choice, some through addiction, some through the darkness in their hearts. The Apartment’s C.C. Baxter disappear into his work to distract himself from his internal listlessness. Baxter has little in his life outside his job. He can’t even go home. Here, disappearing into the void of his empty office, is where he can at least occupy his time.
For a while there you try kidding yourself that you’re going with an unmarried man. Then one day he keeps looking at his watch, and asks you if there’s any lipstick showing. Then rushes out to catch the 7:14 to White Plains. So you fix yourself a cup of instant coffee and you sit there by yourself and you think. And it all begins to look so ugly.
Ingmar Bergman called the human face “the most important subject of the cinema“. Here, we get a good long look at Shirley MacLaine’s as her Fran Kubelik delivers a minute-long monologue. The shot- and speech- are broken just once by a brief shot of her counterpart, Fred MacMurray. MacMurray’s Jeff Sheldrake is Fran’s boss, and once-and-future lover. In sixty seconds, MacLaine runs through all the stages of accepting the ending of a relationship and ends up back where she began: lonely, heartbroken, and looking for someone to comfort her. A lot is asked of Shirley MacLaine in these sixty seconds. She answers in the extraordinary range she conveys in a few distracted glances.
You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.
– Shut up and deal.
A happy ending needn’t be a sappy one. Love stories too often attempt to be all-encompassing at the end: the couple aren’t supposed to be just happy, they need to be so forever after. But it can be more satisfying when the film ends right when the attraction definitively begins. The Apartment is about lonely people looking for something, anything, or anyone outside of work with whom to spend their time. A proclamation of love, or even a kiss, would have been overselling the ending. Playing cards with someone you adore beats staying late at work. It’s a start. Sometimes, a start can be a joyful thing.