Roman Holiday (1953): Escapism and Why That’s Okay Sometimes

Audrey_Hepburn_and_Gregory_Peck_on_Vespa_in_Roman_Holiday_trailer.jpg

I’ve made a point of suggesting that the reason that I return to movies, again and again, is not because I go to them as an outlet of escapism but for the fact that films give us a little bit more insight into the lives we lead as human beings. In some ways, you could say I’ve even vehemently warned against films functioning in such a way if that’s their sole purpose. In other words, I’m not a proponent of turning on a movie and tuning out all the periphery. It sounds a little too much like Timothy Leary for my tastes.

And yet I return to Roman Holiday time after time.  This story that literally functions as a fairy tale, a vignette-filled journey that perfectly encapsulates a day on the town. And we get the pleasure of returning to it again and again along with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. I will qualify why this all still makes sense but first, a little background is in order.

From the first time I saw it, on a plane flight to England, I was enamored by the whole adventure and the individuals involved. Hepburn has remained unequivocally my favorite actress of all time period. Gregory Peck’s lasting screen presence keeps him among the greats as far as film stars go.

They make Roman Holiday work so impeccably, but the major key to director William Wyler’s success is the very fact that he took his film on location — something that was still a fairly new phenomenon. So instead of getting some artificial Italian world conjured up on the Paramount backlot, we got a far more realistic experience that is almost palpable with its authentic flourishes.

They’re the kind of iconic panoramas that you cannot try and fake without them turning out ridiculously corny. But Roman Holiday is the real deal and that shines through its crisp black and white imagery and successfully turns Rome into the third major player in this romance.

I think it’s telling that Roman Holiday is a fairy tale in itself. It’s the story of Princess Ann’s little bit of escapism. It’s a bit of bliss that she gets to share with someone very special. But does she wrap herself in it forever and never return to reality and the responsibilities she has? No, she goes back to them. And there’s a reluctance and as an audience, it’s certainly bittersweet.

But look at Ann in the end and we see that she has truly grown up in that short span of time. If she had not, she would have undoubtedly been content with a life living out her little fantasy and forgetting everything else around her of substance. That’s so easy to desire after all. However, in doing what she did, she not only grew immeasurably but, in the end, she has a magical experience to hold onto and remember fondly. The fact that it cannot last forever only makes it that much more special.

There’s nothing wrong with vacation — a day of rest and relaxation is necessary for all of us. It’s no coincidence that we have a weekend built into our daily rhythms. That’s why I enjoy returning to Roman Holiday every few years because it’s alright to have that guilty pleasure every once and a while. In fact, it’s not a guilty pleasure at all. You could make a case that stories like this are even necessary. But the important distinction to make is that escapism is fine — I’m not against it completely — but it needs to be in moderation.

We can return back to earth after the fun of the fairy tale and simultaneously our lives are made better and we have the good times to look back on. I will continue returning to Roman Holiday for years to come and without the least bit of hesitation. A little bit of fantasy can be a very good thing. I’ll try and remember that.

5/5 Stars

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