You know that moment when you revisit something – or somewhere – that you loved as a child only to discover it’s not exactly how you remembered it?
The first time I watched Roman Holiday was in preparation for my first trip out of the country. I was 11 and my extend family was going to spend the summer in Italy for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary. That trip was transformative in many ways – I discovered coffee, fresh mozzarella, gelato (every day), that medieval castles existed outside of photographs and my imagination… – but the preface that Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn, and Gregory Peck gave it colored a romance my 11-year-old self only partly understood. The romance for me was in the discovery of somewhere new and exciting – the most meaningful romantic relationship that I took from the movie was the one that Princess Anne has with the city of Rome. After all, she runs away because she wants to experience the city and the life within it; when she heads home from Joe’s apartment, she wanders through the market, impulsively gets her hair cut, and stops for gelato on the Spanish steps. Her desire for experience and adventure informed the way I travel long before I realized it. The dashing man who escorts her around is just another part of the experience scenery.
Re-watching the movie now, I found the same spirit of independent adventure, but was surprised by the depth of the story. Joe is hardly a likable or respectable person, and even less the kind of guy the princess would want to be with for any extended period of time; the story is more an ode to a day that helps both of them grow than a romance between two people. I didn’t leave it feeling the same tragic longing I used to feel when the story finished, wishing they could still be together. Perhaps this is me getting older, but I know now that they shouldn’t try to reconnect, that they have nothing to offer one another beyond their one day. The memory will serve them better, in helping them to grow and move forward in their lives.
The movie is often described as a fairy tale. Perhaps it’s a fairy tale in that it’s so rare in this modern world that you meet someone once, for a day, and that’s it. And in every other iteration of this story, the relationship doesn’t end with the end of the trip, but rather with the movies choose to offer a sense of possibility that the couple could reunite. What do we lose with that inability to accept that things must end, that lessons can be self-contained?
I’m writing a longer essay about this, so stay tuned.