ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

(Warning - the following might just change the way you see beloved 1990 romance movie Pretty Woman forever. Or, it might make you laugh and point at the screen. Either way, proceed with caution...)

Now, chances are, you've seen the iconic Julia Roberts and Richard Gere-starring Pretty Woman at least once (if not, feel free to go and watch it now - we'll wait), and chances are you've been at least partly won over by its heady mix of old-school romance and post-80s pragmatism. Plus, Julia Roberts' performance is, as they probably don't say in the biz, freakin' awesome.

The thing is, though...

There's a Dark Secret Lying Just Beneath the Surface of the Movie

And I'm not talking about the fact that it's actually a dark, sordid love story about a man who essentially tries to buy a woman's love (though it sure, sure is).

Instead, I'm talking about a secret that - if true - could redefine the entire movie in a deeply troubling, albeit intriguing, way. Specifically:

The Whole Movie Is in Richard Gere's Character's Head

Yup, that's right. That old chestnut. It was, in classic (just post-the-80s) fashion, all just a dream. In this case, though, it might actually make a whole lot of sense.

Y'see, it all starts with the opening scenes of the movie...

The Movie Opens With Richard Gere's Edward Having an Existential Crisis

In the opening few minutes of the movie, we see Edward being broken up with by his longtime girlfriend (who feels he is taking her for granted), before being confronted with the consequences of his bachelor lifestyle in the form of a now married ex-girlfriend. We hear that his business life is stressful, and that he wants to be back in New York by Sunday to attend the opera. Visibly troubled, he then abandons the party, taking his lawyer Stuckey's car along for the ride. As he leaves, Stuckey shouts "you're going to get lost in the dark."

Which is where things take a turn for the "completely imaginary." The reason?

Edward Immediately Gets 'Lost in the Dark'

And as he does so, the above song plays - a song, by Go West, named 'The King of Wishful Thinking.' As Edward drives through L.A., we hear the lyrics:

"If I don't listen to the talk of the town, then maybe I can fool myself. I'll get over you, I know I will, I'll pretend my ship's not sinking. I'll tell myself I'm over you, 'cause I'm the king of wishful thinking."

As we watch Edward drive through the city, we see generic shots of prostitutes seeking out business, before - as the music dies down - we finally meet Julia Roberts' Vivian. As she gets ready to head out onto the streets, a new song starts to play... the movie cuts back and forth between Edward driving through the city, ever more lost, and Vivian getting ready (in shots highlighting the attractiveness of her body, her precarious financial state, and her emotional availability - with shots of boyfriend's photographs that have been defaced). Next, a man walks across a sidewalk, shouting out to passersby:

"Welcome to Hollywood. Everybody in Hollywood's got a dream. What's your dream? Hey, Mr, Hey, what's your dream?"

At which point we get to see just how tough Vivian's situation is - with her roommate Kit having stolen her rent money to buy drugs, before suggesting she use a pimp.

And then, soon after, Edward decides to stop and ask for directions on a street, Vivian approaches him, and the whirlwind romance begins.

My argument, though?

Everything After Edward Gets Into Stuckey's Car Is a Dream

Take another look at those song lyrics:

"If I don't listen to the talk of the town, then maybe I can fool myself. I'll get over you, I know I will, I'll pretend my ship's not sinking. I'll tell myself I'm over you, 'cause I'm the king of wishful thinking."

They're explicitly detailing the actions of a man crushed by the end of a romance (like Edward) seeking to get over it by hiding from those around him (like Edward) who opts to "fool himself" rather than deal with the depressing life he finds himself living.

Which is, I would suggest, exactly what Edward is doing.

There's a Whole Lot More to It Than Song Lyrics, Though

Take Vivian's entrance to the movie, for instance. Crucially, she doesn't appear until after Edward's song of fooling oneself - and when she does so, she's initially drawn in only partial brushstrokes. A thigh here, a bra there, and Vivian finally comes to life - but she does so as a Hollywood fantasy version of a street prostitute.

She's stunningly beautiful, charming, intelligent, pointedly new to the business, and established - though she and Edward's early negotiations - as adorably naive when it comes to money. In other words, she's Edward's dream woman - one who he can hire whenever he chooses to.

The second song, then, functions almost as an inspiration for Edward's fantasy - where the first reflected his situation, it becomes an inspiration for Vivian - a rough-and-tumble red haired contrast to the slick, affluent blonde women he's surrounded with in his social life. A contrast, who - crucially - Edward has imagined.

What's more...

The Rest of the Movie Was Established in the Opening Two Minutes

Y'see, not only does Edward get broken up with, but we also see him deal with a stressful work situation, his obnoxious lawyer, and acknowledge that he is set to go to the opera (presumably alone) the coming Sunday.

The film's plot, over the following two hours? Edward hires Vivian, who helps him to understand that work doesn't matter and that his obnoxious lawyer is a scumbag - while accompanying him to the opera - and who then falls in love with him, teaching him...the same lesson that his ex-girlfriend was trying to explain to him on the phone, in the opening scene.

Heck, the movie even opens with a magician doing a disappearing trick...

In other words, then?

Edward Is Suffering from a Severe Psychological Break from Reality

In fact, it's entirely possible that the whole movie is simply experienced in that one car ride - but it seems more likely that Edward instead, as the song suggested, hid himself from "the talk of the town," and bunkered down for a week in his hotel, imagining himself learning a series of valuable life lessons from a beautiful woman who would go wherever he told her to and do whatever he said - right down to falling in love with him. Even Vivian later calling off the relationship seems to act mostly as a prompt for him to finally become a moral businessman.

And then, finally, the pair reconcile in the form of classically 1940'\s style close-ups and a kiss, high up on a fire escape, Edward asks Vivian (in reference to an earlier conversation about her belief that a white knight would ultimately save her)...

"So what happened after he climbed up the tower and rescued her?"

...and she tells him:

"She rescues him right back."

And so, all at once, Edward is able to overcome his fears of heights, intimacy and his father's legacy, while being able to finally see himself as the fairytale hero of his own story. It's so neat, it must - as we were told right at the beginning by that gentleman crossing the street - be a Hollywood dream... one presumably providing Edward with the emotional closure he needs to return to reality.

And then?

Then, that same crosswalk crossing guy from earlier walks past, and - with the movie's final line, says:

"Welcome to Hollywood. What's your dream? Everybody comes here, this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't, but keep on dreaming - this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreaming."

Especially, it seems, if you're Edward...

Which, When You Think About It, Is Pretty Dark

After all, that all means that one of the most beloved love stories of our time is in fact simply the muddled dream of a man who can't deal with his own reality. By that logic, Vivian - one of the most iconic heroines of modern romance - is simply a 'Mary Sue,' an idealized character created by Edward to give him the controllable, manipulable love he so craves.

In other words, it's a story about a man who dreams of hiring a woman for sex, buying her clothes until she falls in love with him, and then saving her from being sexually assaulted by one of his closest friends.

Or, y'know, it's just a romantic comedy with a really dark side to it. "Everybody in Hollywood's got a dream," indeed...

What do you reckon, though?


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