What luck that I’d have a film like Darling to talk about on International Women’s Day. Directed by John Schlesinger and starring Julie Christie as Diana, Darling is the story of a selfish young woman who uses her beauty and promiscuity to climb higher in her modeling career and society in the swinging sixties. Obviously, we are going to have a nice feminist rant this morning.
Diana is telling the story of her life in an interview. From her voice-over perspective somewhere in the future, she is often removed enough from the images to have different opinions and emotions than her shown character depicts. The film starts with a man putting up a billboard, slapping Diana’s beautiful face over a poster depicting a message about world hunger. This image sets the tone for the vain set of values that the rest of the film will show.
Though Diana is married to a man named Tony through most of the film, we don’t ever see him. Instead, she falls in love with a married man, Robert (Dirk Bogarde). While the interview voice-over professes, “We didn’t know what we were doing” and “The thought of breaking up someone’s family was absolutely repellent to me,” she seems less than guilty about stealing Robert away from his wife and children. Through her modeling, Diana meets Miles (Laurence Harvey), an advertising executive who helps further her career as Diana begins an affair with him. When Robert finds out about Miles, he dumps Diana. This only makes her throw herself into her modeling career and Miles more. Eventually, she marries an Italian prince, has wealth, fame and a big royal family, but no happiness.
Diana is one of those kind of people who always wants attention. One of my favorite scenes showing this is in the apartment when Robert is trying to write. He’s tapping away on his typewriter while across the room Diana starts tapping at the window, casually rearranging things, and even throws her legs in the air like she’s doing some weird exercise. Finally, Robert suggests she go out for a while he works. She just goes to Miles and makes up a huge excuse about being late saying that the car was towed. She even gets some sympathy money out of the lie.
While I find Diana to be a horrible example of a woman, Julie Christie portrays her amazingly well. Diana is intelligent enough to know what she wants (fame and fortune) and she knows exactly how to get it, (through using her female charms on the men useful to her). Christie makes these ideas clear and shows a woman pulling the strings. Her best scenes are when everything is blowing up in Diana’s face. The rage, hurt and fact that she has only brought everything on herself is shown brilliantly. In the palace scene where Diane angrily paces room to room, camera following close behind, she starts breaking things and strips off her jewels and clothing to reveal noting left but her bare body in front of a mirror. It’s depressing, startling and unflattering moment for the model once called the Happiness Girl. Julie Christie really earned the Oscar she received for Darling.
To Diane, pure happiness seems like some unattainable myth. She has complicated her life too much to figure that simple thing out. The image of Diane’s face on the cover of Ideal Woman magazine is as fake as pairing an image of onion rings with the word Healthy. The ending image is of a stout old woman, happily singing her heart out on the street. She will never end up on the cover of a magazine, but she seems to have more happiness in life than Diane ever could.
“You’re just a whore baby, nothing but a whore and I don’t take whores in taxi’s.”