Pretty Woman is Not About Hookers

Things are not always what they seem to be.

Land is flat, but the world is round. Stoplights are way bigger than they appear from the driver’s seat. Time travels at the same pace whether you’re sitting in a boring meeting or watching Netflix all day, and Pretty Woman is not about hookers.

(If you haven’t seen the film, check out the trailer so you know what it’s all about.)

In fact, I would argue that Pretty Woman is one of the most realistic stories out there. It’s like, remember when you read Animal Farm and at some point realized that the story was not about an animal farm but instead an allegory for the Russian Revolution of 1917 (thanks, 9th grade English)? Pretty Woman is that. Except it’s not using hookers and businessmen to tell the story of a war or a revolution. It’s using them to tell us the story of the fight that every single human goes through, which is the fight we all have with ourselves about whether or not we deserve a good life.

For starters, let’s talk about what makes our two main characters so realistic.

Whenever Vivian (Julia Roberts) got punished as a kid, she was locked in the attic, where she dreamed of a knight in shining armor whisking her away. So when a less-than-knightly guy came along during her teens and offered to whisk her away from Georgia, of course she accepted. But “away” was LA, and the guy peaced out, leaving Vivian to fend for herself. Vivian needed a way to make ends meet and she hadn’t graduated high school, so she became a hooker. But part of her still waits for that fairytale, not believing that this could be all she was meant for in life. She protects herself from getting stuck by not falling in love, by never kissing anybody on the mouth.

Edward (Richard Gere) also tries to protect himself by keeping the rest of the world at a distance. His father left his mother and screwed her over, so Edward has learned that love is a dangerous risk. Edward controls his life by planning and working and screwing other people over the way his father did. He has relationships because that’s what one does, but like Vivian, he keeps from ever emotionally connecting; he rarely spends time with his girlfriends, and  he never kisses them on the mouth.

Edward and Vivian meet when Edward gets lost on Hollywood Boulevard and needs directions. He’s obsessed with utility and she can offer him a service; she needs to make ends meet and knows that she has nothing to lose because this cannot possibly be her endgame. That’s what gets them both into a car. Of course this doesn’t happen every day. But I don’t think it’s so hard to believe in a girl who is searching for something more and a guy who’s been burned and is just staying frozen so it doesn’t happen again.

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Once Vivian and Edward get together, we have a little fun at casual places like Rodeo Drive and the opera. But things stay real; he has trouble connecting, admitting what he wants. She has trouble trusting him when he does offer her a “fairytale.” Here is my paraphrasing of Edward’s and Vivian’s thoughts throughout the movie, if they were in touch with their emotions enough to identify them:

“I want my life to be amazing, but so far the people in it have made me believe I don’t deserve that. I care about other people, so I believe them. That’s why it’s so hard for me to let go of what I know to take a risk and do anything that could make me really happy. I’ve spent so long thinking I don’t deserve it that, now it’s in front of me, I’m not even sure I know what it is. I want my dreams to come true, but life has taught me to stop dreaming.

The point of this movie is not that ladies should expect a man to come along and save us, or that men should solve their problems with money and sex. The point of this movie is two people who feel alone and worthless, who for all the world appear as though they do not have hearts. They protect themselves by toughening up, but that toughening up necessarily means giving in to the harshness of the world and believing that maybe they are heartless after all.

But that’s not so. Edward is kind, Vivian is honest. They both have goals and fears and things that make them angry. They both have hearts. They both try to protect those hearts, because they’ve been broken, but they both also take little steps toward finding what they want once they feel comfortable and brave enough to take that risk.

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We all try to protect ourselves. We put up a tough front. We have dreams that we are too tough or terrified to realize. But sometimes if we open ourselves up to something a little crazy, we can find the bravery to accept our dreams- and ourselves. The romance in Pretty Woman is wonderful, but it’s not what has made this film a classic. Pretty Woman is a powerful movie because it portrays fear and insecurity and the exorbitant amount of courage it takes to dream.

So, things are not as they seem. Pretty Woman isn’t about hookers, and I’ll give you a few others too: Legally Blonde isn’t about law school. Top Gun isn’t about planes. Grease isn’t about grease (okay, that one was a gimme). The point is that if you look closely you can find a way to connect any story to the things we all go through in real life; movies are just a way for our fears to take the form of dreams.

After all, “This is Hollywood. What’s your dream?”