Feminists will hate me for this review, well more than they hate me already!
Screenplay By: Steve Tesich
Directed By: George Roy Hill
Where do I begin with The World According To Garp? I have no doubt that my review will piss off a lot of people, but such is life. First, just so that it’s out in the open, I am not a feminist nor do I believe in the feminist ideal. I’m a humanist, I believe in equality for all, not the elevation of one at the expense of the other, nor campaigning for the rights one one gender while ignoring any injustices done to another gender.
I have plenty of issues with the way the story and camera try to juxtapose certain events. The movie has a tendency of ignoring certain things, things that shouldn’t be ignored. It spends a good deal of time placing Jenny Fields as the paragon of feminism, yet, when she admits that she raped a man the movie glosses over it as if it doesn’t even matter. Later, their is a scene where it is implied that Garp has sex with the babysitter, yet the movie never bothers to explore this. Garp says he didn’t do it and the story moves on. This doesn’t jive in any way with the anger that Garp later shows when his wife cheats on him. I can understand his anger, but their is a clear intent to make him the victim and this is done only by ignoring his previous transgression.
I did however love the way that gender was turned on its head in regards to the way the household was run, and if not for the earlier Garp infidelity and how that was mishandled I did like the idea of the wife being the cheater. There were moments of great strength in the film, moments such as Garp’s meeting with Ellen James that were touching. There was also nice symmetry in how scenes at the end of The World According to Garp tied into scenes that played out in the very beginning of the film.
This brings us to the topic of sexuality and feminism and why as much as I am sure a lot of people lauded The World According To Garp for its take on these subjects I found it rather lacking. The movie through Jenny tries to put forth that it’s a woman’s body and she can do whatever she wants with it, but if a man does the same it’s wanton lust. You can’t have it one way or the other, it either needs to be that everyone is in charge of their own body and can do what they want, or everyone is ruled by lust. The World According To Garp also wants to make a parental argument in terms of gender. It wants the issue of parenthood to be black and white, male and female. Where they should have gone with the Glenn Close character is not to emphasize that a father isn’t needed, but rather to emphasize that a well rounded parent is needed. I couldn’t get past these issues, because they continually rear their head. For every great touch like John Lithgow’s character, you have moments such as Jenny siding with Helen when she has cheated on her son, once again ignoring the wrong actions of a female whereas if a man had done the same then he would have been the devil consumed with lust. I understand what The World According To Garp was going for, but it lost its way and it’s message ended up being far too confusing and uneven.
Story wise there were also more than a few problems. Jenny catching Garp as he falls from the roof was more than a bit unrealistic in its physicality and heavy handed in its message. Jenny never ages until the very end when she looks a little bit older, but in earlier scenes when she should have looked older she looked the same as she did at the beginning of the movie. The random guy in the red truck chasing down Garp and Roberta is too much overkill. But the biggest transgression is the quick reconciliation between Helen and Garp and the death of their son that is completely ignored. One second Walt is in the picture, the next he’s gone and we are never given any closure on the parents end as far as his death is concerned.
I did like the Ellen James Society, they are completely idiotic, but they were a nice addition to the story. Pooh was incredibly creepy and possibly made the ending work, but more on that later. The World According To Garp moved at an agreeable pace and did have its share of engaging characters and moments. But, that ending, oh that ending. I’m still unsure about my thoughts on the ending. On the one hand it tied into the themes of flying and was in tone with Pooh being a maniac. It also tied in with Jenny ruling Garp’s life and even after her death she ruled over his life through his death. But, it also came out of nowhere and I don’t quite know if a downer ending like that was what the film needed.
Maybe I didn’t piss off that many people with this review. Reading it over I was metered in my criticisms of feminism and gender roles, but I have found that any criticism of such hot topics will piss off some people. Regardless, people being pissed off at me has nothing to do with the film. Despite all its flaws I did like The World According To Garp. It was disappointing because there was a great movie that wanted to burst out from all the uneven storytelling and messages, but it was a movie that engaged me and prompted a lot of thought. I’d recommend anyone give The World According To Garp a chance, just be wary of crazy ladies in pigtails.