The Purple Rose of Cairo - Movie Review

As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the movie, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. If you want a complete overview of the movie, you can find one here. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers below.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) was written and directed by Woody Allen and is classified as a romantic fantasy. In a nutshell, the movie is about a woman named Cecilia who is unhappily married and overall seems unhappy with life. So much so that she spends most of her free time at the movies and develops kind of a psychological condition; she becomes a living and breathing reverie. Then one day she is fired from her job as a waitress, finds her husband cheating her, and all of this is happening at the peak of the Great Depression. She goes to the movies again and watches the same movie over and over until the character, a poet and explorer named Tom Baxter, walks out of the film into real life. Fiction becomes reality, reality becomes fiction. The two fall in love and that's that.

So, what does the movie say about the meaning of life? Well, there are traces laced throughout the movie as shown below.

In the movie, while Tom is in Egypt hunting for the mythical purple rose, he meets some people and randomly decides to go back with them to New York. In making his decision he states/asks the following:

Tom: What's life without a little risk-taking?

Later in the movie, when Cecilia asks Tom if he should be getting back to the movie, Tom replies:

I want to live. I want to be free to make my own choices.

Meanwhile, while Tom and Cecilia are off doing what couples do, the audience is left waiting at the movie theater talking with the characters who stayed in the movie. Several of the audience members fed up with the whole ordeal request a refund for the movie that stopped mid-story. One person states the following:

I saw the movie just last week, this is not what happens... I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week. Otherwise, what's life all about anyway?

Not long after, the director and other movie creators go to the theater to see what is going on... while talking with the fictional characters and the actor Gil Shepherd who plays Tom Baxter, one of the creators state:

The real ones want their lives fiction, and the fictional ones want their lives real.

Cecilia decides that Tom needs to see reality, so she takes him around town and eventually to a church. They have the following conversation while looking at a cross:

Tom: It's beautiful. But I'm not sure exactly what it is.

Cecilia: This is a church. You do believe in God, don't you?

Tom: Meaning...

Cecilia: (speech stutters) The reason for everything--the world, the universe.

Tom: Oh, I think I know what you mean. The two men who wrote The Purpose Rose of Cairo--Irving Sachs and R.H. Levine. They're writers who collaborate on films.

Cecilia: No, no. I'm talking about something much bigger than that. No, think for a minute. A reason for everything. Otherwise, it'd be like a movie with no point and no happy ending.

More on the meaning of this can be found in the book American Jewish Filmmakers.

Later, Tom is unknowingly at a brothel and attempts to have a rather philosophical conversation with the workers. He states:

I was thinking about very deep things--about God and His relation with Irving Sachs and R.H. Levine. And I was thinking about life in general--the origin of everything we see about us, the finality of death, and how almost magical it seems in the real world, as opposed to the world of celluloid and flickering shadows.




For example the miracle of birth.




Then the absolutely astonishing miracle of childbirth, with all its attendant feelings of humanity and pathos. I sand in awe of existence.

Later Cecilia and Tom are together again, and Cecilia questions whether he is real. To this Tom has the following to say:

Look, I don't want to talk any more about what's real and what's illusion. Life's too short to spend time thinking about life. Let's just live it.

Escaping reality, Tom and Cecilia decide to have dinner inside the movie from which he came. The woman Tom was supposed to marry in the movie is singing a song about taking things one day at a time. After dinner, Tom shows Cecilia his world, and for some time they stay together in the movie. That is until Gil Shepherd shows up and asks her to come out of the movie to be with him. Her heart is conflicted, she fell for both Gil and Tom. She chooses Gil; she chooses reality over fiction. Tom is crushed, and Cecilia tells him:

Tom, try to understand. You'll be fine. In your world, things have a way of always working out right. See I'm a real person. No matter how tempted I am, I have to choose the real world.

Cecilia goes home to pack as Gil told her they are going to Hollywood. But sadly, for Cecilia, he lied. The actor was merely acting to get Tom back into the movie. Gil didn't love her and so he returns to Hollywood without her, and Cecilia is back to her old depressing life. She returns to spending her time watching movies. The movie ends as forecast; it'd be like a movie with no point and no happy ending. A purposeless movie about purpose. After all, purple roses so full of meaning and enchantment are just a fictional creation of man. After all, isn't this the story of most mid-life crises?

We rate the movie as follows:

Overall - 10

Meaning of Life Relevance - 8

Uniqueness – 5

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