In Delbert Mann and Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty (1955), Ernest Borgnine plays a basically decent man, trapped in a kind of stasis by social forces only more amplified today: misogyny, distrust of the educated, racism, and classism. Even the changing economic landscape looms over him, as corporate consolidation threatens his dream to own a small business.
One more generation, and it’s easy to imagine Marty’s family chanting “lock her up” at a MAGA rally, and his friends as incels trolling women on the internet. His family exemplifies a moment of social transformation between extended families living together and a trend towards isolation and nuclear families. His mother and aunt spent a lifetime working until they couldn’t work any more. In their old age, they are left with nowhere to live and nothing to do. His cousin is transitioning towards the American Dream of a house and child, but the accompanying burdens and anxieties outweigh any happiness.
Outside the family tumult, his circle of friends is adrift in an increasingly isolated social world of movies, bars, and dance clubs — all in the pursuit of women that they seem to desire and loathe in equal measure.
I cannot tell you how utterly relieved I was when Marty made that last-minute phone call. I don’t think I could have borne it if he hadn’t.