The Apartment, by Albert W. Vogt III

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to get married.  God may be calling me in a different direction these days, and that is sometimes the nature of having a relationship with Him.  All one can do is say “yes” wherever that may lead you because it will ultimately be greater than anything of which one can conceive of on one’s own.  Often, the journey towards God’s will involves a turn inward, being that authentic “you,” whatever that means.  As I said, for a long time, I thought that was to find a wife and start a family.  Growing up, I could not wait to find that “special someone,” and as a result I put a lot of pressure on myself.  People would tell me at a young age to slow down, take your time, play the field, and an assortment of other clichéd phrases.  You are too young was always at the bottom of all these lines.  I suppose, in a sense, I should be thankful.  It has taken me a while, and it is by no means perfect, but I am pretty comfortable right here, right now.  These thoughts are intended to give you context as to what I thought about while watching The Apartment (1960), number eighty among the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.

The main character in The Apartment is Calvin Clifford “C. C.” Baxter (Jack Lemmon), though his myriad of supervisors at the insurance company where he works refer to him as “Buddy Boy.”  I will refer to him as Mr. Baxter, which is what Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), an elevator operator in his building, calls him.  To him, she is Ms. Kubelik.  The reason the others have given him the sobriquet “Buddy Boy” is because they use his apartment as a bachelor pad for their illicit affairs.  Mr. Baxter is too ambitious, and too nice, to say no.  Thus, he often works late while one of his bosses fools around in his apartment.  Being a bachelor himself, it is not too much of a burden, though it is giving him an undeserved reputation from his neighbors of being a partier.  It is also not without its perks as those who are taking advantage of his living situation are seeing to it that he continues to get noticed by upper management.  Indeed, there are rumors that he is about to get promoted, and it is with eagerness that he goes to meet with his department head, Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), as preamble to moving up the corporate ladder.  While Jeff has heard of Mr. Baxter’s efficiency as an employee, he has also learned of the rumors surrounding his domicile.  There are some indications of an eventual higher position, but what Jeff is proposing more immediately is an exchange of theater tickets for the use of Mr. Baxter’s apartment.  It should be mentioned at this point that Jeff, like the others, is married.  Seeing the opportunity ahead of him, Mr. Baxter accepts.  On the way out of the office, he sees Ms. Kubelik and being smitten with her, asks if she wants to be his Broadway date.  She initially refuses, claiming to be going to see another person.  He presses the matter, and when she relents by saying that it is not serious, she says she will meet him at the theater.  In the meantime, the person with whom she has a rendezvous is Jeff.  It is apparent they have a past going back to the previous summer, after which he ended it when his family came back from their seasonal trip.  This time, though, he says he is leaving his wife, which gives her hope that they might be able to have a real relationship.  For Mr. Baxter, this means that he gets stood up for the show.  A few weeks pass and it is now the annual office Christmas party.  Though things had somewhat chilled between Mr. Baxter and Ms. Kubelik, he is able to lure her to his new office to share a drink.  When he goes away to get another drink, Ms. Kubelik is confronted by Jeff’s secretary, Ms. Olsen (Edie Adams).  She is aware of Jeff’s affairs, and she tells Ms. Kubelik all about her boss’s pattern, which is too familiar for Ms. Kubelik.  Furthermore, once Mr. Baxter returns with refreshments, he learns that it is Ms. Kubelik whom Jeff has been entertaining at the Baxter residence.  After the day is over, he goes to a bar and gets drunk while Jeff and Ms. Kubelik retire to the title location.  In the course of their conversation, she wants to know that he is truly committed to divorcing his wife, but he evades the question.  Instead, he gives her $100 for a Christmas gift and leaves.  Distraught, she takes too many sleeping pills and passes out on Mr. Baxter’s bed.  This is where he finds her later.  Sobering quickly, he gets his neighbor, Dr. David Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) to revive her.  He then orders Mr. Baxter to stay with her for a couple of days while she recovers.  To keep her spirits up, he claims that Jeff is worried about her, even though the phone call he makes to his boss indicates that Jeff is more concerned with keeping a lid on things.  The person who does not do so is Ms. Olsen, who Jeff had learned had told Ms. Kubelik about the way he has treated women.  In response to being fired, Ms. Olsen calls Jeff’s wife and reveals his infidelities.  Thus, when Mr. Baxter finally comes to the office, he is about to tell Jeff that he is going to take Ms. Kubelik off Jeff’s hands, only to have the director do this very thing to him.  It also comes with yet another promotion.  Yet, when Jeff asks to use the apartment one more time while the divorce is finalized, Mr. Baxter refuses and quits his job.  That evening, as Jeff and Ms. Kubelik are out for New Year’s Eve, she finds out about the stand taken by Mr. Baxter.  This is the moment she had been looking for, and she leaves their party and goes straight to Mr. Baxter’s place.  It ends with him declaring his love for her.

While watching The Apartment, I could not help but feel for Mr. Baxter.  The reason why I wrote what I did in the introduction is because I saw a lot of myself in him.  My first instinct is to make others happy.  I know the folly in such pursuits, at least when taken to their extreme.  One could say that “extreme” is how Mr. Baxter’s supervisors treat him.  When they perceive that they cannot get what they want, they act incensed and make threats.  What does Mr. Baxter do?  He tries even harder to smooth everything out and further inconvenience himself.  He is clearly being taken advantage of, and there is even a scene where, without directly saying it, he admits that he is in denial about his state of affairs.  A different kind of person would react indignantly.  I admire how Mr. Baxter handles it, doing so in what I would call a Christian manner.  Essentially, what is happening is that he is being bullied.  There is the classic Christian doctrine of turning the other cheek.  At one point, he literally does this when Ms. Kubelik’s brother-in-law, Karl Matuschka (Johnny Seven), finds his sister-in-law at Mr. Baxter’s home.  Thinking something untoward is happening, Karl punches Mr. Baxter a couple of times.  Mr. Baxter bears it in a Christ-like fashion, focusing more on the attention it brings him from Ms. Kubelik than the injury.  And therein lies the rub.  When people insult us, emotionally or physically, we tend to want to respond in kind.  Turning the other cheek as the Bible asks us to do is not about ignoring what has happened to us but to instead find a different perspective.  Those who strike at us do so out of their own woundedness.  Karl is mad because he does not fully understand what is going on, and Mr. Baxter is consistently misunderstood throughout the film.  Ms. Kubelik has a better kind of love for him, and ultimately that is all that matters.

We tend to think of the era during which The Apartment is set as a prim and proper one.  Certainly, we are more permissive in this day and age, but the behavior of nearly every married man in this film is disgusting.  I did feel for Mr. Baxter, but my distaste for much of the rest of the proceedings nearly trumps any enjoyment I got from the film.  Thus, with this one, I say proceed with caution.


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