Friendship and Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy - FriendshipFor some reason, I was thinking about Midnight Cowboy. I’m not that fond of the movie or the novel. It’s so dark. But as dark as the movie is, it is nothing compared to the novel. The movie only hints at Joe’s early life and pretty much all of the homosexuality is washed away. Joe is a far less interesting character in the film. But what I’m interested in is the friendship between Joe and Ratso. This is the part of the book that the film is most faithful to.

I’ve noted before that the film is a lot like Waiting for Godot. Basically, you have two characters who have nothing but each other. And outside their friendship (which is hardly without its problems), the world is a very nasty place: lonely and cruel. In Godot we never learn what Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for. Godot is little more than a symbol of hope that even if life can’t be better, it can at least be different. Joe and Ratso do hope for a better life — some kind of success, but it is hopeless.

The ending of the movie is the only part that I can force myself to watch anymore, because I’ve always seen it as so sweet. Just as in the book, Ratso dies on the bus to Florida. Joe tells the bus driver who says that they just have to continue on and then they will deal with Ratso when they arrive. So Joe goes back to his seat and puts his arm around Ratso. For decades, I always thought that Joe did this as a sign of love and a symbol of their friendship. But that’s totally wrong.

The nature of friendship is interdependence. Joe and Ratso need each other. And as bad as Joe’s life was with Ratso, it was the best that it ever was. When he goes back to sit with Ratso’s dead body, Joe is terrified. Of course he loved and honored Ratso. But what will Joe do without him? Joe is such a wounded character — a beaten puppy beneath the thinnest veneer of bravado. And now he is so alone.

I worry that as a society we only become more and more like Joe and Ratso. We have a society in which success is a commodity. But there is no expanding market. There are only a handful of “greatest” violinists and rich executives. And even if the market were expanding, it would only push greater absolute numbers of people into the category of the worthless.

But that wouldn’t matter, except that we have all bought into this lie and allowed a society to develop that denies the validity of the kind of connection that Joe and Ratso shared. Friendship is something that exists between equals. And who is going to choose to be friends with Ratso? Well, Joe — because Joe has no one else. But do any of us? Joe starts off alone and he ends alone. Maybe he’s wiser now. But that’s likely to make the loneliness all the more acute.

19 thoughts on “Friendship and Midnight Cowboy

  1. I thought it looked like him partially trying to shield someone he cared about from the looks of others while he tried to understand a huge loss.

    Female friendship is different I think. A little easier to get maybe? I don’t know. But generally the movies about women’s friendships are not so damn depressing.

    • That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t get that feeling. And as I recall, in the book, that bit about all the people looking on isn’t present. Part of it certainly is him trying to fool the world (and himself) into thinking that everything is okay.

      • I haven’t watched the movie or read the book so my reaction was just to the clip and that is why I thought he looked protective.

        • It’s an interesting reading of the scene. Don’t read the book. I have a feeling you would hate it.

          • It would probably depress me and right now, that is probably not a good idea. At least until I pass a physical for life insurance.

            Plus rape really is not fun to read.

            • Yes. That doesn’t happen in the film, as I recall. But still. You know, the filmed version of Going Postal is really good. It always cheers me up. And I like the idea of Adora Belle Dearheart quitting smoking. I worry about young people! Also, if you haven’t seen it, one of the greatest films made in the last decade, Dean Spanley.

              You do seem like you’ve been kind of down recently. Just keep swinging!

              • I did find a new book series Just One Damned Thing After Another: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s Book One which has had me chuckling after another miserable class on how little I can retain on grammar. I mean I write it down, I read it, I write down again and I still don’t remember it.

                This week has been pretty bad. I developed bronchitis for the first time. And apparently it is pointless to see a doctor about it. So I have been feeling all the lovely pain from this experience and trying to work while not being able to talk and reschedule exams I was too worn out to take.

                I am sure things will improve. They usually do when I am not trying to hack up my lungs.

                • It’s unfair. Everyone in college is presumed to be 22 at the oldest and never have anything wrong with them. You should be able to show the registrar a doctor’s note and your instructors required to give you a makeup exam when you’re better. Alas, no college works this way. Good luck — I suspect you’ll still manage to get all A’s.

                  • I was able to take it this morning. I think she was shocked at how bad I sounded when I called so helped out a bit more. But I missed several of the last questions because I forgot the answers. Not that worried, probably will get a B.

                • That sounds bad, but it is one of those things that is likely to improve. Most people find it bizarre that Heroin was a big product for Bayer. But the truth is with so many people having TB, having a really strong cough suppressant was really important — because coughing can be incredibly painful. I wish you well.

  2. According to legend, the song the filmmakers wanted to use was Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” but he hadn’t finished it in time, so they went with Nillson. Interesting to think how the movie would be different with that song change. “Everybody’s Talkin'” is a sad song; “LLL” is not. “LLL” would have been more ironic; I can’t say if that would have helped or hurt the film.

    (That’s a movie I haven’t seen in beyond decades, but I still remember the song. Everybody does.)

    Are you making a distinction between people who band together out of necessity versus those who come together because of mutual interest? That’s what I got. And I think I agree, although I suspect all human connection is on something of a spectrum between “I need you” and “I respect you.”

    The book/movie that hits me emotionally about friendship and equality is “A Passage To India.” Aziz and Fielding cannot be friends, because of the occupation. Different positions of power poison everything.

    • Ah, and I realize I read it wrong. You wrote “the nature of friendship is interdependence.” I read “independence.” I think both of those are true.

      To be a functioning society, we need bonds of interdependence. To function as independent humans with our own perspective on existence, we need quiet time to ourselves.

      The worst thing about the corporate world is it combines the antithesis of both needs. It puts people into a “performance review or die” box. And still chastises them if they don’t engage in “team building.”

      It’s positively astounding how much self-deception goes on at the corporate level, how many generic phrases (like “team building”) they toss around, nobody believing it for one moment. It’s truly odd.

      • That’s a keen observation. But every “team building” exercise I’ve ever been subjected to has been so clearly about control. Can they get you to do useless things? Can they get you to comply. That’s what I’ve come to see a PhD as.

        • Today I got to take apart old policy books and insert new policy pages — which, to a page, were exactly the same as the old pages. In one case I did this at 9:30 in the morning and repeated it, on the same book, at 4:00 in the afternoon.

          And people think government bureaucracy is ridiculous. One thing’s for sure; when the people who run these companies go to Hell, there’s going to be some very angry trees there looking for revenge about all the wasted paper.

          • Oh, yeah. I love it when conservatives make out like bureaucracy is just this government issue. In my life, government bureaucracy has gotten markedly better and private sector bureaucracy has gotten unbelievably worse.

            You should put together a portfolio and check out some freelance writing websites. It might provide a way forward.

    • “Lay Lady Lay” is a sexy song. I think it would have worked very well. It would have been seen as ironic, however — a reflection of Joe’s delusions. It’s hard to imagine the film without the song. But was “Lay Lady Lay” really that late? I guess you are right. But the image of a stone skipping before its inevitable drowning seems perfect. But they didn’t Harry Nilsson:

  3. I don’t need to see Midnight Cowby again either. Even the ending (which always makes me tear up) has a bitter aftertaste.

    Ever watched Spartacus (1960)? I’m thinking of the scene where Kirk Douglas and Woody Strode are sitting together waiting to enter the arena and fight. There’s no antagonism between the two gladiators, but there’s no point in making friends, either — because someone has to win and someone has to lose. In the end, Strode takes another option and is swatted down. Most of us can only manage to be Kirk Douglas, even if we’d like to be Woody. Although Crassus/Olivier is also a popular choice.

    Dark out today, isn’t it?

    • “Spartacus’ is a good, if rather schizoid, movie. Woody Strode makes an impression, as he does in the opening sequence of “Once Upon A Time In The West.”

      The big rousing moment in “Spartacus” is where the Romans ask the defeated slave army to identify who Spartacus is and they’ll avoid being murdered. First one slave stands up, then another, stating “I’m Spartacus!” Everybody yells it. They’d rather die horribly than give up their friend.

      It was written by Dalton Trumbo, and it’s not hard to see what his point was in terms of the Hollywood blacklist. It’s a little egomaniacal to pretend you’re that noble. The scene still works, though.

      The scene that I remember making me howl from “Spartacus” was Lawrence Olivier hitting on Tony Curtis. “Tell me, do you like snails, or oysters? I, myself . . . I like both snails and oysters.” It’s hilarious.

    • It’s been a while since I’ve seen it. But I do remember that. It’s a critical point where Spartacus realizes that there is a choice that can be made — a dangerous one, but a choice nonetheless.

      But I’ve always kind of hated the ending. I love the heroism of everyone saying, “I’m Spartacus.” But the showing of the baby and all that — it’s so 1950s. It takes a tragedy and tries to tack on a happy ending. Hollywood loves to do that.

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