In London, twenty-seven year-old hairdresser Rita decides to complete her basic education before having children as desired by her husband Denny. She joins a literature course in an open ... See full summary »
For Alfie, the only real life is sex life; only then can he kid himself he is living. Sex is not used as the working-class boy's way to 'the top'. Executive status has no appeal for Alfie. Nor has class mobility. He is quite content to stay where he is, as long as the 'birds' are in 'beautiful condition', as he assures us they are in one of the candid, over-the-shoulder asides to the camera which the film carries over from "Tom Jones". The film shows how much of the 'swinging 60's' quality of London life was a male creation, and through the dominance of the fashion photographers, a male prerogative.Written by
Watching this marvellous film again last night, I began to think about how peculiar that a film which has so severely dated in so many respects still manages to say something profound today. In certain respects, this film just couldn't be done today. First of all, gender roles have changed a great deal, and many of Alfie's "birds" simply wouldn't be plausible in a modern film. Second of all, sex has changed so much. Back in the 80s, we had plenty of films (usually bad ones) which took a similarly cavalier attitude toward sex, but that's a relic of a simpler, pre-HIV world that's gone forever.
But "Alfie" still manages to say something, even to a modern audience. On one hand, it's got a very funny script, and Michael Caine plays Alfie with such an infectious charm that it's impossible not to smile. But also, there's a deeper layer of meaning to the film. "I never mean to hurt anyone," Alfie says. "I know," says Harry, "but you do." Alfie ignores this lovely and rare moment of real honesty, but the audience shouldn't, because the heart of the film is right here.
Alfie himself is such a fascinating character. At first, he seems like simply a rogue, a rascal. But there's a helluva lot going on under the surface. His deep, deep insecurities, his tragic loneliness (he wouldn't see it that way, naturally), his pathological inability to have a real relationship with anyone. Especially his own son, whom he obviously loves very much.
While it's easy to see "Alfie" as a tragic story and feel sympathy for the character, it's important to hold onto the hatred. Alfie is a cruel, merciless, and heartless man. He is self-absorbed, utterly insensitive, and totally domineering. He cheerfully holds his "birds" to standards of loyalty he himself needn't bother with. He ruthlessly undermines the individuality and autonomy of everyone he is with, even when pretending to be a liberating force. Notice in his scenes with Gilda how his words sound as though he's endorsing freedom, independence, and self-determination, but the effect of those words is to keep her right under his thumb where she belongs. Alfie deserves our sympathy, yes, but he also deserves our hatred, loathing, and utter contempt.
Anyway, like the DVD box says, this is just a sweet, frothy little comedy, if you like, and it's very enjoyable as such. But, if you care to look deeper, there is so much more to behold. The tagline to "American Beauty" was "look closer", but all of its profound ideas and insights (if any) were plastered right across the screen. "Alfie" is a film which asks you to look closer, and it rewards the effort.
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