For all the joy and frivolity of the festive period, film has always had a tendency to show the darker side of the holiday. From Dead of Night and Mon Oncle Antoine, to the mournful Meet Me in St. Louis and emotionally raw It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas at the cinema can be pretty bleak.
The Apartment may not be full of snow, reindeer, and Father Christmas, but like many other Christmas films it looks at the loneliness that can be highlighted at this time of year. While there are those who leave the office party and go home to their family and children, others go back to their one bed apartments where they have not even bothered to put up a tree or decorations.
C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) definitely falls into the latter category. He is a shy and nervous type who works in a large insurance firm and who lives alone in a bachelor apartment. Often though, he cannot even go back there, as executives from his firm use it to have affairs, and he is left outside in the cold. He may find promotion and become a junior executive himself, but is more interested in lift operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).
Fran has been privy to Baxter’s apartment in the past, and is being towed along by company director Jeff Sheldrake and his false promises that he will leave his wife. On Christmas Eve, Fran discovers how little she means to Mr Sheldrake and takes an overdose of sleeping pills at the apartment. Baxter finds her and nurses her back to health with the help of the doctor who lives next door.
In the end Baxter turns down what was meant to be his dream job in an attempt to find personal redemption and renewal. The film is fundamentally the story of his moral progression from someone who is willing to be pushed around, to someone who is willing to stand up for themselves and do what is right.
A summary of The Apartment’s plot may make it come across as overly sad and downbeat, but the reason the film works so well is because it plays on the melancholy of the Christmas period with a sincere warmth and gentle humour. Baxter is enjoyable company, and his interactions with Fran are both heartfelt and touching.
Perhaps this is why The Apartment’s assertion that new beginnings and second chances are truly possible is so affecting. Life with all its messiness and complications can leave you disappointed and disheartened come the end of the year, but no matter your situation there is always a new year ahead.