Note: If you are a fan of Sex and the City, if you intend on seeing the movie and don’t want the ending or plot points spoiled, do not read any more of this piece. If you are merely curious about this cultural phenomenon, or are looking to kill a few minutes reading but don’t know Carrie and Samantha and Miranda and Charlotte from Adam, feel free to read on. Again, be warned there are indiscriminate series and movie spoilers.
Kips Bay, N.Y.C. — There is love in the City. But only after great and unnecessary pain.
Going into a 12:15 A.M. show of the long-awaited Sex and the City movie early Friday morning I thought: Why, besides pure capitalism, did there need to be a Sex and the City movie? After all, isn’t more than half the joy of a great movie “The End”? “Tomorrow is another day,” and you can have hope for tomorrow, but “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” what another writer wants as the sequel. I can handle hope myself.
In the last episode of Sex and the City — the HBO series with a lot of flaws but also a lot of honesty about American culture — “Mr. Big” (Chris Noth), the love of Carrie Bradshaw’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) life, said, “You’re the one,” and that was “The End.” We assumed love and marriage.
Or so, at least, I hoped we did.
But I realized coming out of that 12:15 movie Friday morning that the hope isn’t a given. Not on the big screen and not in the audience.
Walking out of the theater, filled with very many twenty-somethings (as you might expect), some dressed in their best couture and/or knock-offs, girl-with-her-cooperative-boyfriend couples, more groups of girls, some girls with a well-dressed man with an obvious affinity for the movie — I took note of the first two things I heard.
The first was: “Oh my God, but he’s soooo cute.” That gal was referring to the decision of Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) to leave the (soooo cute) guy who loves her because she loves herself more.
The next thing I heard was, “F*** you, b**ch” as a group of girls were annoyed someone else got the first cab. It was the first cab they saw.
Maybe it’s because it was 3 in the morning, but I found the two comments striking and sad. Here’s a movie that in many ways was a beautiful — albeit crass and p.c. and graphic (like the late television show) — love story. Here’s a movie with suffering and joy and life and cultural lessons, but some of the people I heard leaving the theater didn’t seem to have been affected. I’ll grant you that maybe, just maybe, New Yorkers have too many layers of emotional protection — especially the ones out after midnight on a school night — to let their more tender feelings show at an AMC, but if you had also heard where they laughed and applauded during the movie, you, too, would probably be concerned.
The movie, like the series, is an important cultural contribution. It’s a mirror. And you don’t have to be promiscuous or crass like Carrie and Samantha and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) tend to be to see a reflection. There is a real focus on men, and on what women do to men: Women don’t forgive men. Women don’t think about men and their feelings. For as sensitive as the modern man is supposed to be to a women’s feelings and as sensitive as a man is supposed to look, he’s not really supposed to register an opinion. Or slip up. Or be honest.
At the beginning of the movie, the love of her life tells Carrie, “I want you.” As in for life, not for the night, not for on-call entertainment. But he also did that three years before (where we last saw them together). And when the time comes that they make a business decision to do more than sleep together, have dinner together, and keep house, Carrie goes for a Vogue-style (literally) wedding production that her John (the love of her life’s actual, but not often used, name) goes along with because he loves her. In a weak but honest moment he tells her he would have married her in city hall — that it’s about her, for him. And she doesn’t quite realize that, for her, it really is about her. She realizes that much later, only after putting him through a little bit of hell (the poor guy got momentary cold feet — who wouldn’t under the circumstances? — and she didn’t care about his side of the story) and not getting any real help from her self- and sisterhood-obsessed friends.
A quick example of what I mean about audience reaction: We, as the audience, know that the guy’s been wronged, we know that he’s taken more than his fair share of pain, and yet, they’re delighted — cheering — when nice-girl Charlotte tells him off, curses the day he was born, hits him with her shopping bags. Mr. Big was one of the last people in the City who needed to be told off.
And then there’s Steve (David Eigenberg). He has sex, one night, with a woman who is not his wife. Contemptible. But Miranda, his wife, treats him badly in general, treats their child as an accessory, and doesn’t treat their nanny as a human being. She, of course, treats Steve especially horribly for his sin for which he is deeply sorry, this great father who loves his wife but needs help along the way. Steve, like John, is not perfect, but both are in love and want to make a life with Miranda and Carrie. But Miranda and Carrie are too hardened by a “me first” attitude to see that there are men — and in Miranda’s case a child — who love them.
Sex isn’t self-conscious about the reflections it’s showing — Sex encourages lust for the designer labels and “booty calls.” The self-conscious lesson Carrie sends us off with is to feel free “to write your own rules.” (Who needs husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.? Just do what feels right? She’s deeper than that, but you can walk away with that lesson, too.) But there’s hope: Even the girls I walked out of the theater with might think twice before they stomp all over the hearts of their Mr. Big or Steve, and they might realize that the deeper message of the film is that it’s not hooking up but true love and marriage and children they want. If they went back to Sex after the tastes of “happily ever after” that came by the end of the TV series, then they might already know, deep down, that that’s what they crave — and Sex might just make some love happen.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.