Now, Voyager (1942)
Written by Casey Robinson (screenplay) and Olive Higgins Prouty (novel)
Directed by Irving Rapper
“Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.” ~ Charlotte Vale
“The untold want by life and land ne’er granted,
Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.” ~ Walt Whitman
My mother introduced me to many classic films as a young girl, a habit borne of our shared insomnia, and the late night programming of old movies. This was before cable TV, before we even had a VCR, come to think of it. We had an over-sized, living room television, or my small black and white one, that provided so many cinematic stories that still reside in my memory, and in movie-loving heart.
Now, Voyager was one of our favorites. We shared it again yesterday afternoon, when it played as part of a Bette Davis day, on Turner Classic Movies. I’d forgotten parts of it, but my favorite moments, they were were still with me.
Like the famous cigarette lighting scene, where Jerry (Paul Henreid) lights two cigarettes at once, then gives one to Charlotte (Bette Davis). I dated a boy once who did that trick on our first date. It worked a little bit of magic on me that night, I must admit. The kind of magic that old movies always provided me.
I remembered too that moment when Charlotte disembarks the boat, how her family is so shocked at her demeanor, her poise, her attitude, and yes her looks, though I’ve always tried to put that part in last place. For me, it was Charlotte’s change in self-esteem, and her newfound confidence, that really changed her. I love watching her shine.
Of course, there are parts of the film that do not go unnoticed as troubling. There is a lot of emphasis on her physical appearance, mentions of her weight and negativity toward needing glasses. There is also the “cure all” for women at the time, being put into a mental hospital, but one must look at the film in its space and time in the world, where it comes from. I do tend to read it as Charlotte was always her inside, always beautiful, too, but she did not believe in herself, and her mother was so wretched, thus that self-loathing showed through.
Well, that and a good hat.
I think her confidence and freedom changed her, made her glow from within. And, yes, love did, too, but Jerry didn’t rescue Charlotte any more, or any less, than Charlotte rescued Jerry, in my opinion. Their love changed them both. I only wish they’d been able to be together – but this is a tragic love story, and a not so tragic person story, to me.
This will always be one of my favorite movies, and it will always bring good memories of my mother, and our shared love of movies, especially classic ones.
The facilities and philosophy of Cascade, the “sanatorium” where Charlotte is treated in the book and movie, are based on the real-life Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, MA, where author Olive Higgins Prouty had once sought treatment. The Riggs Center was notable at the time for its focus on physical activity, occupational therapy, daily talk therapy sessions, and eschewing lobotomies and other drastic medical treatments of the time.
“We have the stars.”