Pygmalion and Pretty Woman

Topics: Pretty Woman, Pygmalion, Beverly Hills, California Pages: 7 (2854 words) Published: May 11, 2012
"I feel just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman except for that whole hooker thing."

It's no surprise that Laney, the speaker of these words and heroine of 1999's She's All That should feel that way. She could have just as easily said that she felt like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady because She's All That is the latest example of a series of movies based on the Pygmalion myth, an occurrence that illustrates Hollywood's long fascination with this myth. The original Pygmalion story is found in Ovid. Pygmalion is the story of a gifted young sculpter who is a woman hater. Ironically, the sculpture that most fascinates him and that he puts all of his genius into is a statue of a woman. The statue is exquisite, but Pygmalion wasn't content. He kept tweaking the statue, working on it until it was so well-made that it looked real, and no other woman--real or sculpted--could compare. Pygmalion reached a point, however, where he could improve nothing else on the statue, and he fell in love with his creation. The poor sculpter tried to pretend that the statue was real; he caressed it, tried to dress it up, brought it the gifts he thought a real woman would enjoy. Ultimately, his pitiful situation of his passion came to Venus' attention. On the goddess of love's feast day, Pygmalion asked the goddess to let him find a maiden like his statue. Venus knew what Pygmalion really wanted, however, and the flames on her altar leaped up three times, signalling that Pygmalion would get his wish. When Pygmalion arrived home, he discovered that his statue was alive. He named her Galatea, and the two of them were married. What the Pygmalion myth boils down to is a man who creates a woman exactly as he would like her to be. Hollywood remains faithful to the basic events of the myth in each film version it creates. In each film, a man takes a flesh and blood woman and recreates her--usually through a physical makeover but sometimes the makeover goes deeper into thoughts and manners; each man also has the man falling in love with his creation now that she is the way he wants her to look, dress, and act. While Hollywood's films try to have the male creator realize somewhat during the course of the makeover that the woman is a person in her own right, the actual perception of the man's noble awakening is weak. Each film adaptation ultimately conveys the idea that the woman is not a worthy individual in her own right until she is molded by the man. His love, now that she is worthy of it, brings her to life.

My Fair Lady, the film musical starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, is actually based on the earlier play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The Galatea in this film is Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), a poor, dirty flower seller in turn of the century England. The Pygmalion in this film is Henry Higgins (Harrison), a cocky, sexist linguist and phoneticist who believes that diction is what really sets the classes apart. He wagers with Colonel Pickering that through a change in dress and diction, he can turn the lower class Eliza into a lady that will fool high society. The only thing in the wager for Eliza is that she might be able to open her own flower shop and somewhat escape her lower class roots. He bullies Eliza and treats her as an object. To him, she is only an experiment, and it comes as a shock to him that she has feelings and opinions of her own. Higgins succeeds in turning her into a proper lady, but the irony is that as a proper lady, Eliza has almost become a statue, an object. She was a real woman in her natural state. Higgins' experiment has robbed her of her identity and her natural feelings and has left her with too much class to ever be able to achieve her dream of being able to open a flower shop. She is no longer functional; with her higher class diction and appearance, Eliza is now decorative. While the movie ends with a sense of a love match between Higgins and Eliza, it is unconvincing. In Shaw's play, Higgins and...
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