Midnight Cowboy (1969)
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Both funny and depressing, our "Midnight Cowboy" rides head-on into the vortex of cyclonic cultural change, and thus confirms to 1969 viewers that they, themselves, have been swept away from the 1950's age of innocence, and dropped, Dorothy and Toto like, into the 1960's Age of Aquarius.
The film's direction is masterful; the casting is perfect; the acting is top notch; the script is crisp and cogent; the cinematography is engaging; and the music enhances all of the above. Deservedly, it won the best picture Oscar of 1969, and I would vote it as one of the best films of that cyclonic decade.
The filmmaking techniques employed here brilliantly capture the feel of the underground New York film movement (and of the city) and are nothing less than dazzling. I've seen many ideas (including the rapid-fire editing, the handling of the voice-over flashbacks, the drug/trip sequences and the cartoonish face slipped in during a murder scene to convey angst and terror) stolen by other filmmakers.
The relationship between Joe and Ratso is handled in such a way as to be viewed as an unusually strong friendship OR having it's homosexual underpinnings. I think the director handled this in a subtle way not to cop out to the censorship of the times, but rather to concentrate his energies on the importance of a strong human connection in life, whether it be sexual or not.
MIDNIGHT COWBOY is a brave, moving film of magnitude, influence and importance that has lost absolutely none of it's impact over the years, so if you haven't seen it, you're really missing out on a true American classic. I recommend this film to everyone.
Score: 10 out of 10.
Everything about this film is brilliant, from the poignant performances from Voight and Hoffman (even though I know this movie well, I still find myself welling up every time Voight flashes one of his innocently pained looks, or Hoffman coughs in his sickly and ominous way) to the stunning cinematography and superbly edited dream sequences.
It's a shame that more of our contemporary filmmakers aren't prepared to take a risk on making movies that are as visually and aurally interesting as this one. Midnight cowboy should be required viewing at all film schools.
The meandering plot follows Joe Buck, a naive, young Texan who decides to move to Manhattan to become a stud-for-hire for rich women. Full of energy but lacking any savvy, he fails miserably but is unwilling to concede defeat despite his dwindling finances. He meets a cynical, sickly petty thief named "Ratso" Rizzo, who first sees Joe as an easy pawn. The two become dependent on one another, and Rizzo begins to manage Joe. Things come to a head at a psychedelic, drug-infested party where Joe finally lands a paying client. Meanwhile, Rizzo becomes sicker, and the two set off for Florida to seek a better life. This is not a story that will appeal to everyone, in fact, some may still find it repellent that a hustler and a thief are turned into sympathetic figures, yet their predicaments feel achingly authentic.
In his first major role, Jon Voight is ideally cast as he brings out Joe's paper-thin bravado and deepening sexual insecurities. As Rizzo, Dustin Hoffman successfully upends his clean, post-college image from "The Graduate" and immerses himself in the personal degradation and glimmering hope that act as an oddly compatible counterpoint to Joe. The honesty of their portrayals is complemented by Schlesinger's film treatment which vividly captures the squalor of the Times Square district at the time. The director also effectively inserts montages of flashbacks and fantasy sequences to fill in the character's fragile psyches. Credit also needs to go to Salt for not letting the pervasive cynicism overwhelm the pathos of the story. The other performances are merely incidental to the journeys of the main characters, including Brenda Vaccaro as the woman Joe meets at the party, Sylvia Miles as a blowsy matron, John McGiver as a religious zealot and Barnard Hughes as a lonely out-of-towner.
The two-disc 2006 DVD package contains a pristine print transfer of the 1994 restoration and informative commentary from producer Jerome Hellman since unfortunately neither Schlesinger nor Salt are still living. There are three terrific featurettes on the second disc - a look-back documentary, "After Midnight: Reflections on a Classic 35 Years Later", which features comments from Hellman, Hoffman, Voight and others, as well as clips and related archive footage such as Voight's screen test; "Controversy and Acclaim", which examines the genesis of the movie's initial 'X' rating and public response to the film; and a tribute to the director, "Celebrating Schlesinger".
Very dark, disturbing yet fascinating movie. Director John Schelsinger paints a very grimy portrait of NYC and its inhabitants. In that way it's dated--the city may have been this bad in 1969 but it's cleaned up considerably by now. He also uses every camera trick in the book--color turning to black & white; trippy dream sequences; flash forwards; flash backs (especially involving a rape); shock cuts; weird sound effects...you name it. It keeps you disoriented and off center--but I couldn't stop watching.
There isn't much of a story--it basically centers on the friendship between Rizzo and Buck. There is an implication that they may have been lovers (the final shot sort of shows that). It's just a portrait of two damaged characters trying to survive in a cold, cruel, urban jungle.
This was originally rated X in 1969--the only reason being that the MPAA didn't think that parents would want their children to see this. Nevertheless, it was a big hit with high schoolers (back then X meant no one under 17). It also has been the only X rated film ever to win an Academy Award as Best Picture. Hoffman and Voight were up for acting awards as was (mysteriously) Sylvia Miles who was in the picture for a total of (maybe) 5 minutes! It was eventually lowered to an R (with no cuts) when it was reissued in 1980.
Also the excellent song "Everybody's Talkin'" was introduced in this film--and became a big hit.
A great film---but very dark. I'm giving it a 10. DON'T see it on commercial TV--it's cut to ribbons and incomprehensible.
There isn't much of a story as MIDNIGHT COWBOY is a series of vignettes destined to bring forth not only Joe Buck's plights in the City, but also inter-cut to his past and show us in shock cuts and semi-psychedelic dream sequences snippets of his past: his failed relationship with his girlfriend Annie (Jennifer Salt) who was gang-raped, his abandonment by his mother, and his apparent abuse by his grandmother, who also had a habit of hustling men for money. An air of pessimism dominates the film almost from the wistful beginning as Nilsson plays throughout the opening credits his deceptively flowery "Everybody's Talking'"; we feel that even while we want Joe to eventually make his mark in the City, the odds are high he won't and will end up working for pennies in a dead-end job -- shown in a masterful shot from his outside point of view later in the film as he watches a man work as a dishwasher in a soup kitchen through a window and sees himself. We know from the look in his eyes he does not want to end like this.
A dark story of dashed hopes, John Schlesinger creates haunting images of lost souls at the end of the 60s, and at the center, the prevailing friendship between two men as they struggle to make some sort of meaning to their lives amidst the elusive comfort of a dignified life. There is the implied notion that they may have been lovers -- Ratso's reaching out to hug Joe in the party scene and their the final embrace at the end certainly points at this -- but this is essentially a buddy film, one that manages to survive, literally, to the death, and bring some form of hope to Joe who at the end in Florida seems much changed, older, wiser.
The second main character is Joe Buck, played by an adorable Jon Voight. (How can you NOT think he's adorable when Ratso accuses him of being a "fag"? Joe's dumbfounded, hesitant response was: ". . . Uh. John Wayne! You think he's a faggot?") Voight plays his character almost perfectly, too, capturing from the get-go the naivety Buck has towards "the real world" (something that was perhaps exacerbated by his tumultuous upbringing, shown in sporadic, nightmarish flashes throughout the movie).
But as an audience, we don't just love Joe Buck because of his boyish Texan charm. He also has compassion. He manifests this feeling in awkward, confusing, and often harmful ways, but nevertheless Joe is constantly thinking of his only friend. To give examples, each time Joe pays a special visit to 42nd St., he does so to gather "mony" for both himself and Ratso. He could take the money and run (though where to remains a matter of speculation), but instead he buys medicine, soup, etc. for his friend (and not himself).
Our sympathies are manipulated more in our main characters' favor at the end of the film, on the bus ride. Joe, being the post-adolescent that he is, finally gets "Rico's" name right, while monologuing in the middle of a fixed camera shot. At this point the ominous cloud hanging overhead has turned black, and we all of a sudden know that Rico will be dead by the time the camera moves over to him, despite our deepest hopes that the fixed camera angle is some sort of cruel joke; the film DOES seem peppered with pitch black humor, after all, we try to rationalize.
But our rationalizing is vain. Ratso's unmoving eyes, and still sweat on his brow say it all. Then we look at his tropical shirt, and we try to feel happy for him. We say to ourselves: "At least he made it back to Miami," but even this does no good. The blow is simply too great. There is an unnecessarily long black screen, and then the credits roll. Nothing relieves the terrible feeling that everything we're doing is pointless and despondent.
Nonetheless, this film showcases superb acting/directing, and at least we can use that little boost to appease that depressing feeling. This is definitely a must for any cinephile.
So, I didn't expect much from "Midnight Cowboy" but got a lot back. It's a touching story, well-made and well-told with some of the best performances of all time. Dustin Hoffman, as Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo, gives one of his best - it's a bit funny at times (he sounds like a cartoon character when he speaks - maybe because of the Lenny/"Simpsons" connection), but Hoffman is entirely convincing. Half of the film's budget went towards his paycheck as he was just becoming a major star in Hollywood. Opposite him is the second-billed Jon Voight as Joe Buck, the "cowboy" who travels North to the Big Apple in the hopes of becoming a male prostitute. Soon his naive ways land him in trouble and he pairs up with a crippled scam artist named "Ratso" - who offers to become Joe's "manager" for a certain percentage of profits.
The movie is quite long at two hours but never really seems very long. Some films can tend to drag, especially some of the films that were made in the '70s because (as it's been said in "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls") the directors were the stars of the movies in the 1970s and occasionally they got a bit too infatuated with their material, going on too long examining characters/scenes/etc. that aren't important. Just about the only scene I felt was a bit too long and unnecessary was the drug party - it makes the film seem extremely outdated (similar to the drug odysseys in "Easy Rider") and really harms its flow because it's not needed.
Other than that, "Midnight Cowboy" is an almost flawless motion picture. I was pleasantly surprised. It does have its flaws (flashbacks are a bit tacky and never used as well as they could have been, for instance) and some of the scenes are a bit uneasy (such as the gay movie theater sequence) but if you can handle its content "Midnight Cowboy" is a truly great motion picture, an uncompromising examination of life on the streets in the late '60s/early '70s. It's a depressing movie, yes, and by today's standards might seem a bit outdated and heavy on the liberal perspective of "life is horrible, etc."...but I still love it and particularly the extremely touching ending will stay with me for a long, long time.
Highly recommended. One of the best films of the '70s. (It was technically released in late 1969 but I'd still categorize it as a 1970s film. It also won the Best Picture Oscar, being the first - and only - X-rated motion picture to do so. It was later re-rated R on appeal.)
What I hadn't remembered from my youthful viewing- or perhaps hadn't noticed because of it, was the technical brilliance of this movie. The use of flashbacks which tell so much story without resorting to dialogue. The camera work which seemed to place the viewer, together with the characters in the scene. Think of the opening when Joe is crossing the street to the diner, the camera pans behind the woman & child sitting on a bench in the foreground, framing the street scene.
The story itself, & the characters - seedy, sad & brutally real. It is very touching to be drawn so closely into a human drama such as this with people most of us would likely spurn. Then again, Joe & Ratso could be any of us. Must have been '70 when I saw it. I recall that upon leaving the theatre I was impelled to find the company of friends. All these years later, I'm glad I'm not alone tonight. This is one hell of a great movie.
I doubt many will take notice of this review (more like comment) so I'll make it brief.
This is perhaps one of the strangest movies I've seen, partly because of the use of montages, artistic filming (very art-house) and the unusual theme. There are many things in the film I still don't understand (I've seen it twice), and it makes for an emotionally confusing film.
The filming and acting were very good, and it is the larger than life characters which make this film memorable. The main character is Joe Buck, a 'cowboy' from Texas who moves to New York to become a male prostitute. He meets the crippled conman Enrico 'Ratso' Rizzo and, of course they become friends going through the usual escapades. What makes the film interesting is the two characters are so different.
I felt the film didn't really develop the relationship between Buck and Enrico Rizzo for the audience to have any real emotional connection, although the ending is certainly quite sad and tragic. You probably already know what happens by reading the reviews, but its pretty obvious from the start.
I personally think the film beautifully and poignantly explores its main themes. The deprivation of humanity (shown by the darkness of the city streets, the breaking-down tenements). Most of the characters in the film exist beyond the law (a conman, giggolo.etc) yet you can't help liking them. Joe Buck is endearing because he is so naive and optimistic, while we begin to feel pity for Ratso later in the film.
I think the film was rated so high because it was certainly very ground-breaking for its period. At the time (And even now) it was definitely not a typical movie (quite art-house). At a time when the cinema was dominated by tired westerns, musicals and dramas a film with such an unusual theme as Midnight Cowboy pops up.
On a personal level, I must say I quite liked the film. The imagery conveyed a dream-like quality. I particularly liked the scene at the party, the music, images etc stay in your mind for a long time after watching. However, as a movie for entertainment's sake it was a bit lacking (not really my style of movie) in thrills. This is a film to be savoured and appreciated, rather than a cheap thrills action flick.
Although I would hardly consider myself qualified to analyse this film, the characters and their motives were quite interesting. From what I understand from the flashbacks, Joe Buck was sexually abused as a child by his grandmother, although it still doesn't seem to be relevant to the story. He is a happy-go-lucky young stud, who suppresses his darker memories. The religious connotations in the film are also puzzling. Some have suggested a homosexual connection between Buck and Ratso, although I fail to see where they have got the idea from. The theme of homo-sexuality in general is more than touched upon in their conversation, and later in Joe Buck's encounter with a lonely old man, but it has little to do with the main story.
Certainly from a technical point of view one of the finest films of the decade (it has more of a 70s feel to it than a 60s feel) and revolutionary for its time touching on subjects few other films dared to do. While it has a simple, sentimental story to it (disguised by a hard edge) the beauty of the film is in the strange, often psychedelic sequences.
This is such a gritty, touching story of two ordinary vulnerable young men, told with such honesty, it's impossible to criticize it taken whole. "Midnight Cowboy" is a terrific movie.
It's terrific because of the two actors--an astonishing Dustin Hoffman, still a new name in Hollywood but already famous from "The Graduate" in 1967. And an equally astonishing Jon Voight, making his first large role in a movie. Each is a type of struggling man living on the fringe of New York (barely surviving in a boarded up building), extreme but never a caricature. They gel as a pair, helping each other but with a bit of reluctance because neither wants to quite admit they need help.
It's terrific further because of the filming, with lots of available light magic in dingy places. The cinematographer, Adam Holender, is remarkably making his first film here, though that might explain the freshness to a lot of the filming. There is in particular a lot of long lens (telephoto) shooting between more intimate scenes, showing layers of people and isolating the star in a moving world (a difficult thing to do with good focus).
It's also terrific for the writing, not just for the story but for the dialog. It strikes so subtly to some truth you don't quite expect, even though it's simple and almost obvious. The screenplay won an Oscar, as did the movie (Best Picture) and director John Schlessinger (Best Director). It's worth noting that Schlessinger is a British director with some very tightly conceived movies already under his belt (including the fabulous "Darling"), and here he seems to make New York as familiar as if he'd grown up here. Along those lines, Voight, playing the naive cowboy to a perfect pitch, is a native New Yorker. And Hoffman, though familiar with the city, is an L.A. kid.
Where does the movie run into trouble? Why isn't it in the top ten of all time? I think it might boil down to three kinds of inserts into flawless the main narrative. The first is a series of flashbacks that in various ways try to "explain" or fill in the psychological background of Voight's character. As if it needs explaining. Or if it does benefit us all to know how he got to his beautiful troubled state, maybe there is something shocking and sensational about the inserts, as effective as they are on their own nightmarish terms.
A second "insert" is a series of short sunny daydreams Hoffman's character has envisioning life in Florida in the sun. It's comic relief, and it mostly works, but there are cracks there. Finally there is a section of the actual narrative where the two men go to a party they've been invited to for spurious reasons (weird luck, mostly). It's too obviously an excuse to film a scene in a drug-addled Warhol-esque party. The hosts are effete artist types who want to film some strange New Yorkers out of context, and so we see the film film these filmmakers and so on. A great scene, but weirdly out of place.
But all of his is to be taken in stride as the meat of the story kicks back in each time. And here, with a melancholy soundtrack, you will be moved and entranced. Amazing stuff. Brave and a lesson in how a film can be adventurous and heartfelt and not painfully slick, all at once. And succeed artistically and commercially.
"Midnight Cowboy" is a depressing tale of friendship and shattered dreams of losers. In flashbacks, the viewer sees that Joe is raised by his grandmother that neglects him and is raped with his girlfriend, who was actually a slut, by a gang when he is a teenager. Further, his grandmother's boyfriends are cowboys and he has very limited education. Therefore he has a wrong concept of women and love, and believes that he will be a sensation with mature women in New York. Ratso is the son of an Italian immigrant that works as a shoe-shiner and has had problems with his lungs for a long time. These two needy characters team-up to survive on the streets of New York and become better persons through their friendship. John Schlesinger has made a stunning classic that has not aged with an unpleasant story using magnificent screenplay and outstanding cast led by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Perdidos na Noite" ("Lost in the Night")
Harry Nillson's poetry responds to the torment of a society in both urban and mental metamorphosis, torn between the past's heritage and the future's uncertainty, between America's deepest roots : God, Family, Community, Progress and an exhilarating fresh air of revolt and anti-establishment. In 1969, post-industrial societies were divided into a simplistic but no less significant dichotomy : the Old and the New order, everything was defined by its ability to move on, or to stay. The movie is about a man who's definitely moving, quitting a lousy job of dishwasher in a Texan diner to go to New York City, some sort of reversal conquest of the West. Joe Buck is his name.
Joe has every reason to be self-confident, he's tall, strong, young, healthy, blonde, "not a real cowboy, but one hell of a stud" is his motto. New York resonates in his inexperienced mind like 'New World'. The opening farewell to the hometown conveys an inspirational freedom of spirit and movements, incarnated by Joe's smile and constantly positive attitude. He can have all the chicks, but he's more interested in old and rich ladies for hustling is the job he wants to do and for something unconsciously attracts him to older ladies. Maybe deep in his heart, Joe is still a little child in quest of a strong motherly figure; this sweet and innate innocence is even highlighted when he plays peek-a-boo with a little girl, in the bus leading to New York. Joe realizes the gap between the world he wants to penetrate and his true nature, and this is the source of his discomfort.
"Midnight Cowboy" is punctuated with regular fast-paced flashbacks developing Joe's background story. Joe was raised by his grand-mother Sally in an overly loving intimacy and one obscure episode involves a disturbing event that has probably perverted his approach to sex. He's moving but something keeps him connected to a nostalgic vision of childhood. From Joe's point of view, nothing is wrong in his business, he's only taking his share of the American Dream with what is at hands. But from our perspective, he's simply lost, the repeated first line "Where's that Joe Buck?" taking its full meaning.
Jon Voight performance's perfectly embodies the excess of an idealism so childish it flirts with naivety and can only foreshadow great deceptions. After a few days in the racket, Joe loses more than he wins money, the height of irony is reached when he even gives one client 20$ after she burst out to tears, feeling insulted after Joe asked for money. Victim of his good nature again, Joe will be disillusioned by a small-time punk, named Rico Rizzo aka 'Ratso'. For 20$, Joe is sent to a supposedly future manager, who'll reveal himself to be a pervert zealot asking Joe to get on his knees ... so they can pray the Lord. Besides the flashbacks, the editing excels in tracing some interestingly subversive parallels. In one audacious scene for example : frenetic movements in bed activate TV channels with a remote control and a succession of pointless programs and manipulative ads, shows on screen.
TV appears like the Pandora box hiding the sad realities of the consumer society. Sex is part of this degeneracy where sacred values, religion and family, have been totally corrupted. And from the ambiguity of the "on your knees" line, resurrects Joe's traumatic experience when he was baptized. The movie depicts religion, in an incredibly revolutionary boldness, as a rape soul. Everything is abuse, consumption from the ultra-realistic, bold, and psychedelically dizzying direction of John Schelsinger, winner of the best Director Oscar. A spiritless society where money, urbanism, sex and bigotry mix in a repulsive nocturnal orgy, creating more frustration, loneliness and perversity, from a mother running a fake mouse around hers son's face to some old broads killing their loneliness by treating their dogs like human beings. For Joe who has no religion and no money, the salvation will come from the most precious thing that could have enriched his life : a friendship.
And this is where "Midnight Cowboy" emerges from the dirt and becomes one of the most classic and poignant friendship stories, between two men whose backs are put in the wall by a cynical society. The image in the poster shows them as misfits, but look at them closely and see how they complete each other, one has the looks, the youth, the health, and the strength, but is like a child, the other is street-wise, knows the ropes, he's crippled, unhealthy, and cruelly lacks in appearance but he's got pride. The iconic "I'm walkin' here" speaks to many lonely people rejected by society. Dustin Hoffman, in a 180 degree turn from his previous role as "The Graduate", demonstrates here his incredible versatility. The friendship between Razzo and Joe will strengthen them, in their daily struggles, to overcome the most nightmarish aspects of New York City, an alienating town whose depressing mood is incarnated by John Barry's iconic harmonica sound.
Joe and Razzo ultimately appear as the only persons we can identify with, victims of a ultra-individualistic urban world they don't belong to. In reaction, all they have is to dream of running on the beach, having fun together, in other words, applying the magic of Harry Nillson's song and 'going where the sun keeps shining' Whether they'll succeed or not is not relevant, but no matter how hard they're freezing their asses in New York, sun keeps shining in their hearts ...
The movie was probably rated X for the main subject but on the way we see some strange things. The editing in this movie is great. We see dream sequences from Joe and Ratso interrupted by the real world in a nice and sometimes funny way. Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight and the supporting actors give great performances. Especially Hoffman delivers some fine famous lines. The score is done by John Barry and sounds great. All this makes this a great movie that won the Best Picture Oscar for a good reason.
This film is essentially one of hope. The naive Joe has an unwavering sense of optimism as he arrives in New York, even as he begins to realize that there are no more opportunities than that of his home state of Texas. Ratso, a hardened and crippled native of the city, has had all hope squeezed out of him, except for a burning desire to one day head south to Florida.
As the film progresses and both characters face a constant barrage of hardship and challenges; it could have easily become a depressing story. Yet there are always brief glimmers of a life that currently eludes the struggling men. This ranges from a surreal 'Warhol-like" party to Ratso's vibrant posters of Florida in his dilapidated apartment in an abandoned building
The addition (and excellent editing by Hugh A. Robertson) of gritty flash-back and dreamy flash-forward scenes that both characters have offers a refreshing break from the bleakness of the city. These flashes also reveal a lot about the mindset of both Joe and Ratso. Joe is a man who is still tormented by a harrowing incident in his past and by his authoritative grandmother who may in an almost Freudian way explain his insatiable appetite for older women. Meanwhile, Ratso's flash-forwards show an idyllic paradise life that he lives with Joe, who may even be his lover if the viewer bought into the confused feelings Ratso may have for Joe. One criticism of the flashes is that Joe's flash-backs were at times a bit too ambiguous and hazy, although this may well have been a deliberate tactic by director John Schlesinger.
The film also uses music excellently with the notable use of Harry Nilsson's recording of Everybody's Talking'.
As the film nears its conclusion, with Joe abandoning his cowboy identity and Ratso nearing death, the sense of hope is maintained, even as Joe forlornly looks out the window at the sun drenched cityscape of Miami, with his arm around his best friend. In death Ratso is no longer sweaty and desperate, for the first time his face is calm, he is at peace with his troubled life. Joe may have lost his naivety and cowboy identity, but his experiences in New York have prepared him for life, wherever he decides to live it.
Midnight Cowboy is the story of one man fleeing his past, and another man who yearns for the future. The performances of Voight and Hoffman are some of the most memorable in film history. Both men make the most of what they have in their difficult lives, and there is nothing more honest and brave than that.
Now even though Voight's performance is good, maybe even great, it's Dustin Hoffman who commands every scene he's in. I especially enjoyed the taxi-cab scene, in which Rizzo ad-libs his reaction after nearly being hit by a driver that disregarded the barriers put up to restrict traffic on the street for filming. Instead of losing their composure, both actors just went with it, making the scene a classic (and more than believable I might add).
Interestingly, the picture holds up well today, even though other reviewers on this board feel it has a dated quality. I'll go with that if you're considering the coked out psychedelic party the duo wound up at, along with the inconceivable notion that you can get by in New York on ten or twenty dollars at a time. The film's brilliance lies in showing how two entirely disparate and flawed characters can find and relate to each other in a maelstrom of depravity, defying the odds to trust and rely on each other, and ultimately to become friends.
Director John Schelsinger's New York is accurately represented in all its grime and corruption. The story moves from Voigt's back story to his interaction with Rizzo with great dialog.
He starts off as a very naïve southerner thinking he can make it in NYC just on his good looks. He has no other reason to think otherwise, as they proved helpful in the past; we learn this from the many flashbacks he has. In the beginning the flashbacks are filmed in a way that portrays them as being somewhat whimsical. They are hazy and the voices sound as if they are coming from a great distance, as they are, they are coming out of his past. However, as Joe delves deeper and deeper into the reality of the harsh atmosphere of NYC we see more of his past, which is no longer whimsical but gritty, filmed in black and white with rapid editing to portray the cruel nature of the past events. This is especially seen in the flashback of him and his girlfriend being assaulted, and her being raped. In one of these flashbacks we see a building being torn down brick by brick. This mirrors the way in which Joe himself is falling apart; the naiveté that he once carried is falling off of him. He and Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) are living in squalor, and barely able to get food to eat; Joe is realizing he cannot live off of his looks, that there is a gritty underbelly of New York that he didn't envision. His subconscious mirrors the way in which his real life is panning out.
Ratso is also serves as a kind of mirror to Joe, but in an opposite way; Ratso is Joe's foil. Joe is a handsome, strong man who, for the most part, has a good outward appearance. Ratso, on the other hand, from the very first time we see him sitting next to Joe in the bar we can tell he is the opposite. He is short, dark, and always coated with a sheen of sweat. He understands how the world works, that it is unforgiving, and sometimes no matter how hard you try you will fail; just as his father did. They are living in the same world, the same apartment even, but they understand things on a completely different level.
The theme of alienation, one that is common of this era, is very apparent in this film. Neither Joe nor Ratso fit into the culture surrounding them. Joe feels trapped in Texas and moves to NYC where he is still very much an outsider. Ratso, living in the cold of NYC, wishes to move to sunny Florida where he thinks he will be able to find a good life. Even though this is his ideal, in the fantasy we get from Ratso's perspective, it is apparent that he knows he will never really fit into society. In said fantasy he is turned on by the people living around him, he is yet again an outsider, alienated from society.
It is not until the end that the gap between Joe and Ratso begins to narrow. Joe resorts to violence; he takes on the mentality of this city in order to get money to fund a means of escape for Florida for himself and Ratso. On the journey we see Joe coming out of a store not wearing the cowboy clothes that he is never without in the rest of the film. He is dressed as someone who looks like they are headed to Florida for vacation. He dresses Ratso the same way; he tires to make them fit into the new society they are entering, but it is to no avail. Upon Ratso's death on the bus, their fellow passengers once again look them upon as outsiders. Even in this new culture they have entered, they cannot escape the alienation they have met at every turn in this film. Despite the Ratso's death, and Joe's continued alienation, the film ends with the hope that Joe can take his new knowledge of how the world works and create a better life than he would have had as a hustler in NYC. Midnight Cowboy is an excellent film portraying the harsh reality of society, and alienation, with stellar performances by both Voight and Hoffman.