• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #118: Holly Golightly


"We belong to nobody, and nobody belongs to us."

For our purposes here, I'm talking about the Holly from the 1961 Blake Edwards film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's, not the Holly from Truman Capote's novella. I've never read the Capote - I'm afraid of an experience similar to my reading of Malamud's original novel The Natural. These books, while superior in almost every way to the movies they inspired, lack the happy endings insisted upon by Hollywood. Not that I mind a bleaker literary narrative - I am a George RR Martin fan, after all - but once I've met a character, whether Roy Hobbs or Holly Golightly, and establish them in my mind as likable, good people who deserve happiness and get it, well, it can be a bit rough watching an earthier version of them stumble to a more uncertain, less cheerful fate.

And I do like Holly Golightly on screen. It may be that I like Audrey Hepburn, as this was certainly her iconic role, though my understanding is that the two (Holly and Audrey) were markedly dissimilar. In fact, Paramount (and Capote) wanted Marilyn Monroe for Golightly. Studio politics and contracts precluded that, so we get Hepburn's star turn. She is a wispy delight as the hayseed turned urban party girl (some say call girl - a point open to debate), seeking life's pleasures in the big city. The movie centers on the tension between freedom and attachment, between sensual satisfaction and enduring love. Golightly has lost so much in her young life that attachment scares her, and her pursuit of liberty and options is driven by the scars of her losses. She affects a light, devil-may-care persona, but there's a sadness beneath, a pervasive melancholy so affectingly depicted by her windowsill rendition of Moon River. Golightly is a tragic figure, and one trying desperately not to be.

The movie has its flaws (it's too long, Rooney's notorious yellowface role), but it works for me. Hepburn and Peppard are a strange match, and Peppard works hard at straddling Capote's narrator and Edwards' leading-man characters. But the pathos here comes from Golightly, from her terror and fragility and determination and courage. It may indeed be that we are all in cages, either made by ourselves or made by others, and life is a process of choosing which cage to inhabit, and none of us is truly free. At least there are always sterling silver telephone dialers.

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