Quick-Thoughts: John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Screened at The Regency Theater

“Well, maybe you gotta think about those things for a while.”

Swindlers make swindlers. This is one of the most melancholy depictions of city life optimism I have ever seen because in hindsight it’s what fuels pessimism towards self-reflection. Some of the darkest psychosexual / Freudian upbringing material I’ve ever endured on-screen gets displayed in this feature-length’s memory sequences, from the incestual trauma to the suppressed romanticism. The juxtaposition between the primary narrative and these flashbacks / dreams are nourished sublimely by vicious editing. The film isn’t afraid to even lean into some borderline cinéma vérité as well with the claustrophobic handheld and close-up montaging, not to mention how the performances are allowed to often talk over one another. But, it also blends those techniques with rather traditionally strong compositions too, usually during the few moments where our two leads can take a breather with one another.

Your commercialized perception of reality prevents you longer from succeeding. Joe and Ratso are always dreaming but they never go anywhere. Everyone has to dumb themselves down with fantasy because their ability to be successful — and perhaps to add to the term in this film’s case, underlying themes of that translating to embracing your sexuality and not just what the radio tells you to be — is so shadowed by a population of swindlers who have to live on pillaging to even have the time to contemplate a plan. Joe’s character is written to not be the brightest in any given room, and because of it, he survives failure with his consistent glimmers of hope; he has fallen under the spell of capitalistic society and seeks to live in its dreams till death. He’s literally manipulated to think “money” is spelled “mony” by a giant New York corporation building — I don’t know how much more on-the-nose you would want than that. His friend is really just a brainstorming buddy to enhance their delusion; Ratso’s intelligence and eventual awareness get the better of him; the comfort-thought of an afterlife is just to lack trying. Him being told “Hey fella, you fell” is tonal foreshadowing of the movie’s ending that’s just *chef’s kiss*. This is a harrowing illustration of living as someone who isn’t truly yourself because you give too much into what the media tells you to be to the point where you never will be “someone”. John Ford may have not been gay, but just because you put on the cowboy get-up doesn’t make you akin to him.

I am sad now.

Verdict: A-

“Midnight Cowboy” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

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