A Big House, A Kooky Wife & A Kid Who Wears Sneakers
An Analysis of ‘Faces’ (1968)November 7th, 2019
It’s funny, isn’t it? The difference a year can make.
The first time I watched Faces I found myself drawn to what the film was saying about the performance of womanhood. In hindsight, this take was narrow-minded and simply a reflection of where I was in life. An undergrad on the verge of bursting, pissed off and convinced that she knew the answers. This time around I felt overwhelmed by the emptiness of it all. The three beers for a quiet dinner at home. The manic laughter to fill the silence. The boredom. I’m reminded of my dad telling me on the train one morning to build fun into the work day: “It’s heartbreaking without it.” Or that evening over the summer when I came home from the internship I had dreamed of for a year, pleading with my mom, “this can’t be all there is… is it?” The point of Faces isn’t how the female characters perform their womanhood, but rather the contextual cage that created them.
In seminar last year we talked quite a bit about love and what it really means. Since then, I have fallen out of love and have found it again. I remember thinking, albeit naively, that love was this permanent savior of a thing. Once it took hold and once you professed it for someone, some part of you would love that person forever and vice versa, regardless of if you stayed together or not. I’ve realized that we strive for the comfort of love in the long term, but what we crave day to day is infatuation. In life, people want to be seen. In love, people want to be seen as the most interesting person in the room.
The men in the film are so bored by the prospect of going home to wives they’ve lost interest in after being at jobs they’ve lost interest in, but feel the pressure of manhood to provide for the family and homes they try to avoid. It’s an empty cycle existence, so they turn to drinking and younger women before settling in at home for pot roast and Miller Lite. The transaction between call girl and client is inherently sexual, yes, but that’s not what they’re really buying, is it? They’re buying the gaze we all hope for, even for an instant. The gaze that says “I find you interesting.” The gaze that says, “I find you smart and witty.” The gaze that says, “I love you, even for just this moment.”
That gaze is the momentary magic that sparks infatuation, which, if we play our cards right, can turn into love. Through the humdrum of everyday, our gaze may shift to other things. Jobs, kids, finances. We lose sight of who we love and why we fell in love with them in the first place, which sends us flailing to any semblance of fulfillment, begging to be seen again. The problem with the characters in the film is that everyone is dealing with varying degrees of the same lingering emptiness. Regardless of who each character runs to, no one is fully capable of fulfilling the other person because no one is actually fulfilled themselves.
I’m leaving Faces this time around with more questions that answers, but I think that’s ok. It’s liberating to realize that the American Dream will not save you, that joy is a daily choice and that love is what we make it.
Get back to me in a year, who knows how I’ll feel.