Sunset Boulevard. How did I miss this? It’s riveting–mostly because the three main characters are so very real even as they are enclosed in the over-the-top, otherworldly opulence of Norma’s immediate surroundings. Part of the tension in the movie is watching as her bubble of wealth and prominence shrinks, threatens to burst–the audience already knows the consequences.
Norma is much more than merely delusional and highly strung; she is charming, capricious, sweet, condescending, demanding, insecure. In other words, human. This role could have been farcical and shallow, but you could see Norma’s strong and powerful outer shell that protects the soft, funny, insecure loneliness inside. Those cracks are slightly visible in the beginning of the film, you can see that there is more going on in her head than the extreme self-centeredness and delusion that she displays throughout the film until she starts to slip, with her half-hearted suicide attempt. Then she loses it completely when forced to confront the reality of her situation and it is convincing and heartbreaking.
William Holden and Erich von Stroheim’s characters, Joe and Max, were also compelling. They, too, were concealing their pain and fears under hard shells–until the end. Joe’s cynicism and charm hid underlying feelings of failure and self-loathing, and also some true tenderness for Norma. Max’s unswervingly loyal stoicism was belied a few times by the use of humor and later pain when he confessed to being Norma’s first husband.
If you haven’t seen it, you should. If you have, see it again.