Splendor in the Grass
Posted on June 14, 2002 at 4:14 pm
In this classic of repressed teenage sexuality, set in the 1920s, Bud (Warren Beatty) and Deanie (Natalie Wood) are high school students who are newly in love and breathless with desire, physical and emotional. Deenie’s parents are unable to give her any guidance. They make her feel ashamed of her feelings. Her mother says, “Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married and then I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn’t enjoy these things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children.” Bud’s father, Ace (Pat Hingle) tells Bud that there are two kinds of girls, “good” and “bad,” and the “bad” ones are fair game. This apparently applies to Bud’s sister, whose reputation has been “ruined” by having sex and has come home from college in disgrace. At a party, she drinks too much and has sex with a group of men.
Deanie will not have sex with Bud, and they break up. Both suffer breakdowns. His is moral; he has sex with another girl, known to be “easy.” Hers is emotional; overcome with despair and self-loathing, Deanie has a breakdown and becomes a patient at a mental hospital. Ace will not permit Bud to go to agricultural college and insists that he go to Yale. But when the stock market crashes, Ace is wiped out and kills himself. Bud leaves college.
When Deanie comes home from the hospital, her mother does not want her to see Bud. Deanie’s father tells her how to find him, and, with some friends, Deanie drives out to the shack where Bud lives with his wife. Deanie and Bud speak, briefly, achieving some resolution, enabling them to go on, if not as they had once hoped, at least grateful for what they have had. Deanie remembers the words of the poem she learned in school: “Though nothing can bring back the hour/of splendor in the grass,/Glory in the flower,/We will grieve not, but rather find/Strength in what remains behind.”
This Oscar -winning screenplay by William Inge was immensely controversial when the film was made. (A brief glimpse of nudity as Deanie ran from the bathtub was cut from the final print.) Most teenagers face a different set of issues today, but they are presented with no less hypocrisy or more reassurance than the messages to kids like Bud and Deanie. Instead of being told that sexual feelings are non-existent or evidence of being “bad,” today’s teenagers often get the message that they are “bad” or lacking if they do not feel ready to engage in sexual activity freely almost as soon as they enter high school. The issues of honesty in communicating about sexuality and the overwhelming confusion of teenage passion remain important and valid, and this movie can provide a good opening for a talk about what has changed and how teenagers feel about the decisions and the consequences Bud and Deanie face in this movie.
â€¢ Why does Ace make a distinction between “good” and “bad” girls? Do people make that distinction today? What makes a girl “bad”?
â€¢ Is anyone honest with Bud and Deanie?
â€¢ What do Bud and Deanie mean when they say that they don’t think about happiness anymore?
â€¢ Why did Deanie refuse to have sex with Bud? Why did Bud refuse to have sex with Deanie? What should two people think about before they make the decision to have sex?
In another classic movie of teenage sexual repression, “A Summer Place,” Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue have sex, and she becomes pregnant. Dee’s mother is repressed to the point of hysteria, but her father, who has left his wife to be reunited with his own teenage love, is sympathetic and supportive, all to lush and unforgettable theme music by Max Steiner. William Inge (who appears as the minister) won an Oscar for the screenplay. He also wrote “Picnic,” “Bus Stop,” “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” all about vulnerable people who must struggle to find intimacy and happiness, and especially appealing to sensitive teens.