By Kim Scott
For the past few months, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore had been highly recommended to me by a fellow film buff. “Ah, you’re interested in feminist movies?” the film buff would ask me. And like any sleep deprived college student who says very unfunny things because they’re tired, I settled into a low, manic chuckle before I answered, “Uh, have you read my blog?” (Just kidding, I didn’t say that. I replied with the tasteful, yet simple “Yup.”)
Trying to get me off the topic of feminist film is like trying to pry my fingers off of a cheese steak– improbable and slightly dangerous. “You must have seen Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore!” she says to me. “That’s a great feminist film!”
But I shake my head and mentally add it into my very long queue of movies I intend on watching. “Haven’t seen it. Who’s the director?”
“Oh, it’s Martin Scorsese.”
My mind reels. Scorsese? Feminism? Huh? The last film I saw directed by Scorsese was The Wolf of Wall Street, where a semi-naked woman has stacks of money duck-taped to her body while Jonah Hill laughs at her. With Scorsese, I’m generally used to seeing troubled young men, leggy women, and terrifying gangsters.
Initially, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore doesn’t exhibit the telltale signs of being a Scorsese film. The title character (played by a hilarious and engaging Ellen Burstyn) is an unhappy suburban wife who dreams of a life other than her own. In this role, Burstyn gives a memorable powerhouse performance, which won her the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1974. Framed by the iconic red rock formations and lush greenery that appears in Alice’s travels, southwestern America takes on a life of its own as an area which has gone unexplored in most, if not all, of Scorsese’s films.
Yet the film engages with a familiar bitter tone found in many of his other works. Alice’s problems are pertinent to the women in the 1970s and certainly women today; she struggles with being broke, unemployed, harassed, taking care of her smart-mouthed child, and wondering if she can find fulfillment. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore eloquently captures not only Alice’s fears and sorrows, but the sheer rawness of character that appears during times of desperation. So often films elude portraying such a fully fleshed out female character in favor for lighter fare (à la the pretty and predictable Rom-Com leading lady), but scattered among Alice’s harsh trials are her humor and sincere interactions with her son and friends.
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore remarkably captures the theme of hopefulness in bleak circumstances. The tagline of the film is, “A picture for anyone who has ever dreamed of a second chance!” While I would probably remove the exclamation point because it implies a peppy exuberance that is absent in film, Alice is indeed given a second chance in life, but that’s only the beginning.
Kim Scott is pursuing a BA in Film and Media Arts at Temple University. She has completed various studies on film analysis and film history with a focus on feminist theory. In her spare time, she can be found reading (anything and everything) or binge-watching TV series on Netflix.
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