I recently watched the Golden Age film, Three Coins in the Fountain for the first time on Netflix. This is a classic movie everyone should watch. Three Coins in the Fountain will leave you reflecting on relationships, deception, and sacrifices, and not to mention nostalgically musing on time spent in Rome or pining for future adventures in the eternal city.
We often long for good stories with dynamic male and female characters who, yes, make mistakes but also learn from them without putting down either of the sexes. Some might take offense that a movie could make it on the screen telling the stories of women seeking marriage because they want someone to ‘look after them’, but then those strong-willed romantics would miss the greater points of the story. We’ll look at this more a little bit later along with what seems to be a negative light shed on a woman who tries to gain the regard of a man by pretending to like the same things he does.
A charming element to old movies is the strong characters shown in men without the worry of putting women down simply because of a man of strength on screen. Movies of the 20’s-60’s tend to tell stories of profound character development who learn an increased sense of morality and virtue (that is, doing things for the right reasons). Often, the stories of men and women lacking character are taken through a series of experiences and mistakes that lead them to be better men and women.
Critics will say the Golden Age of Hollywood shows weak and oppressed characters of women who don’t know what’s available to them. But anyone who watches Three Coins in the Fountain will find otherwise. (A sly reminder to break down a story during and after as an opportunity to learn and not simply be impressed upon.)
In Three Coins in the Fountain, three American women far away from home work as prestigious and well paid secretaries in Rome. Maria, Anita, and Francis live in a beautiful villa with an attentive housekeeper. Even in the midst of success and hardwork, the center of the story rests in the heart of each and the men they grow to love.
(No spoilers here! Please watch the movie and share your thoughts.)
Women Who Want to Marry Are Weak and Naive
Let’s look at the first problem I mentioned: Are they weak and naive for wanting to find companionship and love in marriage? On the contrary! Maria, Anita, and Francis show that work, money, and beautiful things don’t bring happiness. Longing for a spouse is natural even if it means making sacrifices. Our bodies are programmed in their anatomy and chemistry to remind us that we are made for others – not isolation. You want proof? Just study how the hormones, pheromones, oxytocin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins all play into love, sexuality, and family life in order to draw a man and a woman together. With the decline of marriage and family it’s not surprising to see increased depression, mental illness, and loneliness all pointing to the same conclusion through sociological and psychological analysis. This was understood by the storytellers of the Golden Age.
Deception and Sacrifice
One of the main characters, Maria, while newly arrived in Rome studies the things a man likes, from food and dreadful modern art to wine and opera. She pretends to like the same things, in the hope of gaining Dino’s good opinion. Maria’s mistake deals her a serious lesson; however, she ends up showing a greater strength in her humility when she confesses about her little black book listing all of Dino’s loves.
This part of the story intrigued me the most. Maria seeks a way to get to know Dino, who her friends claim is quite the womanizer. While her friends think Dino leaves a woman’s reputation in disrepute, Maria learns to know the man in the hope there is substance to Dino (of course apart from him being a prince). She tries to know and love the things he knows and loves.
There is a beauty to part of what she’s done. Maria sought to know a person and in her faulty methods prevents someone from knowing her. She shuts herself off to reciprocity. You may scoff , but how often do each of us pretend to be something or know something we don’t in order to seem better than we are. Or – do we take the time to appreciate things other people around us love out of love for them. Although imperfect, there is an element of sacrifice to Maria’s actions in the effort to get to know Dino.
A thing perceived and once enjoyed is always better appreciated not in solitude but in communion with others. Maybe we can learn humility by owning up to well-intended shortcomings. The desire to be loved and to make an impression can be purified by loving and allowing the authentic impressions of others to be heard.