Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Meaning of Self-Worth in Sabrina (1954)

A friend of mine mentioned the other day how she's giving up self-criticism for Lent since the season just started. And it got me thinking about the importance of self-worth, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with the concept of self-criticism.

Oh my gosh, when I think of all the hours I've spent doubting my own self-worth, I'm tempted to cringe a little bit. But I don't think I really had a clear vision of what lacking self-worth looks like until I rewatched Sabrina from 1954. If you watch classic movies then you've probably seen it, especially if you love Audrey Hepburn like I do.

But I'll be honest, the film never sat really well with me. Apart from the total miscasting of Humphrey Bogart (who I also love) and William Holden (meh) as Sabrina's love interests, the story itself always gave me a resulting sense of melancholia.

Look at this girl. Just look at her. Isn't she the most lovely, enchanting, delightful woman you've ever seen? She's a literal pixie, whether she's the woman in the above photo or the "younger" Sabrina to the right. And yet, Sabrina struggles with her self-image and self-worth so much throughout the entirety of this film. Desperately in love with Bill Holden's character, she languishes over each and every tawdry love affair he undertakes. Jealousy, self-reproach, and self-hatred all play a role in how such a lovely girl can make herself feel so small and unlovely.

It never once occurred to Sabrina that maybe, just maybe, Bill Holden's character wasn't noticing her because of a flaw in his own character and had nothing whatsoever to do with her. Instead, she's sure that if she can just change, just make herself over in an image he'll find appealing, that everything in her life will be that idyllic dream come true she's always wanted.

No. No, no, no. I'd like to think the audience isn't actually fooled into thinking that the person Sabrina changes into is a reflection of true happiness. Yes, the "made-over" Sabrina is the ideal of the modern woman (well, modern in 1954). Yes, she catches Bill Holden's eye. Yes, everything seems to be going her way, finally, for the first time in her life.

But I'm always left with the question. Who is the real Sabrina? The audience never really knows. Is she the shy, heartsick girl who tried to kill herself over an unrequited love? Is she the self-confident woman two years later who's now a successful cook and stunning beauty? Neither? Both? Or is she someone else, someone in-between?

I'm pretty sure that everything about Sabrina, every change she made, every stylistic improvement to herself was made not for herself, but for Bill Holden's character, David. She wanted to become his ideal, even if it meant maybe being someone she wasn't.

Sabrina grieves me. So much. And now I finally feel like I can write about the sadness I feel in her character. How can a woman be happy if her entire self-worth is wrapped up in being a man's ideal, just so he'll notice her? A woman like that loses her true identity. There's nothing left of the young Sabrina who I really liked, and yet the self-confident Sabrina feels like a phony.

I'm reminded of Romans 8:38-39 when I think of her, actually.

It reads, "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

WOW. Now that, my friends, is love. A love that Sabrina has never and will never experience if she keeps going along the way she's going. It is the love of a God who doesn't care how we've failed, how we've faltered, how we look, whether we're overweight or underweight, or how perfect our lives have been. It is the love of a God who sees us just as we are, with all our failings, and holds us close as His beloved daughter or His beloved son.

Nobody was ever going to bring Sabrina fulfillment. She doesn't know her own self-worth, not even at the end of the film, when she supposedly realizes her love for Lionel, Humphrey Bogart's character. But if she isn't even real to herself, how can she be real to him? Her entire make-over was done to please his brother, David. Will she make herself over again to be someone to please Lionel?

I keep re-watching Sabrina in the hopes that I'll see the magical fairy tale that so many people see. But it's never going to happen, at least not for this version. There's too much falseness in the characters and too much sadness in the story. Sabrina never realizes that she was beautiful as the young teenager with her hair in a ponytail and her heart full of dreams.

If God can see us as beautiful, today, just the way we are, then I think we owe it to ourselves to agree with Him, no matter what anyone else says. Because that is His view of His precious children. I am beautiful, precious, and loved, no matter that the world tries to tell me otherwise. And so are you!


  1. Excellent post.

    I have to wonder what the underlining message of this film is; was its intention to reveal the flaw in such behaviors as you noted, or was it to transform Sabrina into a man's ideal? Is it to reveal her emptiness in a poor light, or to romanticize changing oneself to be worthy of a man?

    The sad truth is -- David was not worthy of that change, and Lionel probably is not either.

    I liked the remake better because Sabrina changed not for anyone else, but for herself. She went to Paris, found her true self, and did things to change her appearance and life for her, not for David. She somewhat foolishly opened her heart to him later on, but by then was mature enough to see that a one night stand with him is not what she wants.

    1. Thank you.

      I think your latter theory is the truth, transforming Sabrina into a man's ideal. Romanticism seems to be a very strong theme, and considering the era, I would be shocked if it was anything other than male chauvinism driving the story.

      See, and that's why I think I'll like the remake better. I saw it a few times, many years ago, but I'm eager to watch it again. I think it has a much healthier message for young women than its predecessor, which is such a shame because Audrey Hepburn is absolutely STUNNING in this movie. The message, not so much.

  2. I saw the remake first, and then the original, so the comparison wasn't that flattering in my mind -- all I really remember about this version is that she tried to kill herself?? But the remake is one of my (and my mom's) favorite movies. :)

    1. Yah, the suicide attempt is a bit of a shock because no man is worth killing yourself. EVER. Some people might think it romantic, but not me. That's why the end of Romeo & Juliet frosts me every time I read/watch it!

  3. I love the remake dearly, but I've never liked the original because... it feels empty. I never quite put it into words like you have, but I very much agree with you here.

    In the remake, like Charity said, she doesn't change just to please David. She's obsessed with him to begin with, but she "finds herself" in Paris, and gradually replaces her empty dreams of David with things she has learned about herself, new friends, new experiences, new knowledge. When she returns, she realizes she is worth more than shallow David. And Linus gradually "finds himself" through getting to know her. He transforms just as much as she, and in the end, each truly knowing themselves now, they can know each other and be happy together.

    1. Empty. That's a really good word to describe the original.

      I'm really excited to be hearing all of these good things about the remake. I did own it once but got rid of it in a fit of cleaning, which I now really regret. I need to rein that in a little bit! It sounds like the remake is more about self-discovery for Sabrina, and I think that's awesome. Maybe I'll see if Amazon has it to rent and watch it tonight with Caitlin and our mom. I think the remake sounds like a fun girl's night in movie.

    2. Hahahahahaha! I have had too many similar fits. And then gotten angry with myself and gone and bought another copy because I regretted getting rid of a movie or book.

      Like Charity, I saw the remake first, so that may be part of why I prefer it. But no, really, it's just better. My dad loved the remake so much, when it first came to video, he rented it for us to watch on our Family Movie Night every single week for two months straight.

    3. I'm halfway through the remake with Mom and sis and we're really enjoying it. They made so many positive, much-needed changes! I think I'll have to blog about it once we're finished watching it!

    4. Sweet! Looking forward to a review :-D


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