Movie Recommendation #2: The Moon and Sixpence

Here is a link to the previous installment of this series, where I recommended the movie “Darling.”

Movie Recommendation #1: Darling

On Sunday at 10:15 AM, the cable network Turner Classic Movies is airing “The Moon and Sixpence,” a 1942 movie based on a novel of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham. It’s loosely based on the life of painter Paul Gauguin, although Maugham changed the name to Charles Strickland and the nationality to British.

 Surprisingly adult adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel based on the life of Paul Gauguin, with Sanders as the restless (and selfish) spirit [Charles Strickland] who turns his back on his family, and society, to become a painter. A postscript, tacked on to satisfy Hollywood’s moral code, weakly tries to undermine the character that Sanders and writer-director Lewin have just portrayed so well!

From the novel’s Wikipedia page:

According to some sources, the title, the meaning of which is not explicitly revealed in the book, was taken from a review of Of Human Bondage in which the novel’s protagonist, Philip Carey, is described as “so busy yearning for the moon that he never saw the sixpence at his feet.” According to a 1956 letter from Maugham, “If you look on the ground in search of a sixpence, you don’t look up, and so miss the moon.”

What makes this movie interesting is that it’s the story of a very selfish man who is driven by his vision of achieving an ideal artistic vision, which represents the “moon” in the title. In his desire to create his ideal art, he keeps his gaze so fixed upon his lofty goal that he fails to notice the value of all the lives he tramples and discards along the way, which are the “sixpence” of the title.

The actor George Sanders as the lead impeccably delivers many choice bon mots in his typically wonderful droll delivery. This movie is not only wonderful for its depiction of an incredibly selfish narcissist, it also excels at realistically illustrating the sexual dynamics of the alpha male bad boy and beta male provider dynamic, which is where a woman has one man who is a “nice guy” and a provider, and is very doting and loving, but finds herself more sexually excited and tempted by the aloofness and powerful persona of another man who is more of a “bad boy” and a cad. W. Somerset Waugham was one of those creators who had a deep understanding of what makes people tick.

One of the things I love best about these old movies is that they were more restrictive in some way thanks to the Hollywood morality code in place at the time, but thanks to not being constrained by political correctness they were able to be freer in other ways, like in some of the insightful, penetrating observations the Strickland character utters throughout the movie regarding the baser natures of men and women. The misogyny would cause a far greater uproar in a movie released today.

Again, set your DVRs for Sunday at 10:15 AM, on the network Turner Classic Movies. Or you can click here for a DVD copy of the movie. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix.

As usual, if you see this movie, whether you enjoy or hate it, feel free to discuss it in the comments below.

13 Responses to “Movie Recommendation #2: The Moon and Sixpence”

  1. I could be off, but from what you described Strickland sounds more like a selfish asshole than a narcissist. Is his striving for the moon genuine or an artistic affectation?

  2. I could be off, but from what you described Strickland sounds more like a selfish asshole than a narcissist.

    “selfish asshole” is about as concise a definition for a narcissist as I can think of.

    Is his striving for the moon genuine or an artistic affectation?

    The words “moon” and “sixpence” appear nowhere in the book or movie. It’s just a metaphor (or is that allegory?) that is never explicitly used within the story.

  3. A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

    Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

    Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

    Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

    Requires excessive admiration

    Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

    Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

    Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

    Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her

    Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

  4. i feel the same when i watch Tennesee Williams’ plays. there’s a novel, fresh, REALness to the work. the truth, the dynamics that are dysfunctional between men and women and men and men and women and men…..it’s no nudity but it hits powerfully. the only recent film that did this same effect, was based on a play, “Closer” with Jude Law, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, and Natalie Portman.

  5. “The Moon and Sixpence” had a lot of the blunt and unsubtle parallels with “Darling”, although I feel that the latter movie was a hell of a lot better. Darling seemed to pull off its bluntness with a free flowing ease due to brilliant editing and directing, The Moon and Sixpence seemed a bit choppy and its transitions weren’t very smooth. As if it wasn’t dumbed down enough it also literally displays on screen read-out-loud text of what we just saw. I see too many problems with this movie which literally watches a like a rough draft. The Dutch artist was way too much of a pathetic caricature, the scenes in Tahiti were pointlessly goofy, our main hero somehow immediately transforms from a boring buffoon with no social skills into a cold and aloof bad ass as soon as he sprouts a beard but to name a few. I suspect I would understand the movie a lot better if I looked into the original novel as well as the biography of Paul Gaugin it might fill in the gaps for me because the movie paints an incomplete picture. A quick Wikipedia search shows that Gaugin spent some time with Dutch painter Van Gogh in France, and during this time Van Gogh infamously cut his ear off. Clearly this shows that the dynamics of their relationship and their characters were quite a bit different than Strickland and the Dutch artist in the film.

    I agree with break that Strickland came off as more of a selfish asshole than a true narcissist. I think he is more antisocial than narcissistic. He seems to be too much in his own world to expect much of other people. He lacks the enviousness, doesn’t expect to be known for his brilliance and definitely isn’t obsessed with admiration. I think the movie tries to portray him as a quasi-autistic genius, kind of like the movie “Amadeus” portrays Mozart. But unfortunately the movie is too simplistic to be a character study of a tortured genius, so it lightly touches upon Strickland’s inner turmoil but doesn’t really develop the theme very much. The scenes where we find out he has leprosy and forces his wife to burn his paintings allude to it but don’t develop the theme much.

    I also think there are quite a few modern day indies that portray the alpha/beta attraction dynamic just as well as the old movies without succumbing to politically correct pressures. A particularly good one comes to mind called “The Vicious Kind” with J.K. Simmons.

    All in all though T, thanks for posting this movie as it was an interesting watch. I’m surprised Britain had the resources at all in 1942 to make movies. I look forward to more of your movie posts. You have inspired me to set up a blog and although it is in its preliminary stages I will link to you as often as possible like you asked.

  6. Ah “The Visious Kind.” I stumbled on that movie about 2-3 months ago on IFC late-night. I highly recommend it. J.K. Simmons (Vern Schillinger from “Oz”) isn’t the star. The star is Adam Scott from “Parks and Rec” (he has the absurd plot-line of being in love with Amy Poehler! WTF!?). He bangs the (virgin) girl-friend of his beta younger brother, before the brother has a chance to have sex with her. I didn’t ruin the movie. Other characters talk about how they know this will happen eventually.

  7. Matt – I would argue that Strickland was a malignant narcissist – a mix of sociopathy and narcissism. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malignant_narcissism

    But I don’t get too caught up on nailing the right label because I have a different, minority view on narcissism. I think all the cluster B disorders, from sociopathy, to narcissism, to histrionic, to borderline, are all really the same personality problem, and are just different ways of expressing it based on the preferred form of narcissistic supply at any moment. When the preferred form of supply is to be acknowledged as superior, that’s garden variety narcissism. When what the emotional vampire wants is attention, he’s behaving as a histrionic. When the supply wanted is the feeling of thwarting abandonment, he behaves like a borderline. And when there is no supply that can be taken from a source or situation, that is when the Cluster B vampire behaves like a sociopath and doesn’t even bother pretending empathy and at that point just exploits and discards. That is why when people research a cluster B vampire, it often seems like all 4 categories fit the person and there is a lot of overlap: because it’s really just a single condition that manifests itself different ways. Although some vampires may overwhelmingly choose one way to cope over the others, if you spend long enough with any Cluster B vampire you usually see all four types of behaviors (antisocial, narcissistic, histrionic, and borderline) displayed sooner or later.

    A major narcissistic act to me was his “revenge” against the world for not appreciating his genius when his final wish was to have all his paintings burned. That type of spiteful “revenge” against “the world” for not acknowleding self-perceived greatness is such a trademark narcissistic move. I think there was a large part of him that craved approval, that craved recognition, but his manner of acting aloof and unconcerned with what others thought of him was an overcompensation he used as a defense mechanism, whereby he disdained what he wanted on some level and it was also a form of self-handicapping to protect his ego. By being so despicable, he wouldn’t feel bad if someone hated him because he actively acted like a louse, but at the same time because he acted as a louse if anyone did like him or devote themselves to him it was doubly rewarding, because they did it in spite of his noxious personality. Being despicable gave him an excuse for when people didn’t like him, and it also made it extra-impressive when people DID like him.

    Signs that he deep down does want validation are the way he passive-aggressively courts the opinion and company of the narrator character in Paris and eventually shows him his painting. Look at how he constantly protects his ego by verbally downplaying how little the guy’s feedback and company means to him, but on some level he does court it.

    I also think there are quite a few modern day indies that portray the alpha/beta attraction dynamic just as well as the old movies without succumbing to politically correct pressures.

    The modern political correctness I was discussing wasn’t in the alpha/beta attraction dynamic, which I agree is often portrayed today still. What I meant was the cerebral monologues where he espouses his theories on the nature of women and his disdain of them. If a character is shown to be misogynistic in movies nowadays, he’s rarely shown to come by such views in a plausible, nuanced, reasoned way, only by blind bigotry, ignorance, or bullying. The last movie I saw come close to allowing misogyny to be so seductively intellectualized was Tyler Durden in Fight Club.

    I will try “The Vicious Kind.” Thanks for that.

  8. “I think all the cluster B disorders, from sociopathy, to narcissism, to histrionic, to borderline, are all really the same personality problem, and are just different ways of expressing it based on the preferred form of narcissistic supply at any moment.”

    Interesting. This presumes a lot of mobility though, but I see a lot of disordered people fixated on one type of response.

    It does make sense that it’s the same sickness and different manifestations. I had 2 borderline girlfriends (I am / was / whatever! / a narcissist / codependent / superhero supersavior). The first was a depressive introvert waif, the last one was a “happy” histrionic extrovert. My mom is the cold type, probably more narcissist than BP. But at the end, when I figured out the relationships, the stuff behind the very apparent behaviors were the same. Same internal mechanics, based on the total inability to recognize another human being or to care about anything else than themselves.

  9. Plus inability to self reflect or self soothing.

  10. *the stuff behind these different behaviors was the same.

  11. TK… Do you watch the original NCIS series? Agent DiNozzo there seems to me to suffer a type of narcissistic compulsive tendencies. As in, he draws attention to himself, humiliates Probbie a lot but he has empathy at the same time. Just been thinking a lot about the narcissistic topic and your reader email a lot. I like DiNozzo, kind of guy I would like to be. Though his character seems to hide behind the narcissism. Is this a good trait if empathy is deliciously added?

  12. Are you a misogynist, Ricky Raw? No judgement. I am just wondering. You seem to love the concept.

    I come across misogyny a lot on the internet these days. I happen to detest it. I see misogynists as being composed of two groups primarily, idiots and control freaks, based on some casual observances. Idiots make hasty generalizations or think their simple-minded theories actually reflect reality. Control freaks hate women because they fear them. They seem to be fear being unable to meet the need of sexuality through women and so they assuage their insecurities through hate.

    When one examines the baser natures of men and women the only rational responses are two: acceptance or misanthrope. Maybe some misogynists are actually myopic misanthropes?

  13. I dont think of myself as a misogynist or a misanthrope. I do believe majority of men’s issues come from excessive pedestalizing of women and a blind acceptance of the idea that male needs values are automatically inferior to female needs and values. I try to deprogram these tendencies which I think leads what some perceive as a misogynist tone.

    I think a lot of men are raised by their mothers and society to excessively pedestalize women and to blindly accept the reality that there is no sympathetic ears for their emotional issues. For example 80% of codependent literature is aimed at women. Lifetime network has a whole movie channel dedicated to male emotional vampires.

    I think much of the misogyny comes from men who realize one day they’ve been excessively pedestalizing women and subjugating their own needs and pain and end up “over-correcting” in the opposite direction. I think like the stages of grief it’s just a stage of anger a lot of men go through but they eventually have to make it to the acceptance stage and not remain in that anger stage permanently.