Editor’s Pick: Sabrina (1954)


I can’t remember how old I was when I first watched Sabrina. I couldn’t even tell you if I saw the original first, or the 1995 Sydney Pollack remake. I can’t remember if I was ever attracted to William Holden or if I was always in it for Bogey. I do know, that for a very long time, it has been in my heart, for reasons I’ve always had trouble articulating. It’s very hard to talk about the things you like. It’s much easier, and cheaper in ways, to express negative feelings. This is especially true when discussing media.

In a way, it makes sense for a young girl to like Sabrina. It’s about a woman in her early 20s who felt invisible and in despair, constantly haunted by her unattainable object of affection. It’s the sort of thing that even a contemporary young woman can understand. We read tabloids and see romances, always reaching for beautiful somebodies that are right in front of us, yet out of our reach. We have all felt awkward, uncomfortable in our bodies and misunderstood. We have felt like every embarrassment is the end of the world. We have tormented ourselves over the possibility of a wild change that could fix everything.

We grow up and we look different or sound different and at first we feel that this change is THE change and everything is going to be different for us. We can get the things we couldn’t get before. We see growing up in that way. Growing up means we can now get the things that were shielded from us. Though we feel like we have changed, we often feel like the same things might bring us the same joy we fantasized about.

I have loved men the way that Sabrina loved David; distant but sure. Determined to win in the battle of love. And like Sabrina I learned that real love often comes easier. Stranger, and less romantic. Quieter than I ever thought it would be.

In the film Sabrina doesn’t do most of the talking, but her journey is the only one I’m following. As I watch, I feel a rush of emotions. I’m looking back on my teen years as if I’m old woman reminiscing about fond memories. I’m remembering how at 17, 19, and 22 (the age of Sabrina in the film) I thought I knew myself. And at 24, I think I know myself now. But I know that in a few more years, after a few more relationships, I’ll get to know myself again and by then I’ll think that’s the real thing too. What I’m finding out now is that every age I’ve been has been the real thing. Parts of a larger whole.

Sabrina, at 22, isn’t even close to the real thing yet. A she sails off to Paris with Linus, I have doubts about them. I wonder if they will be in love forever and I’m skeptical. However, I’m not worried about Sabrina. This a grand adventure in her life and there will be many more. It took Linus 50 (or so) years to find true love and go on this adventure with her, and it reminds me that there is always time.

The comfort of fictions is that it shows you all the possibilities. With every book, film and television show it takes you on a path of what-ifs. Then you gather them up and try to relate them to your life or perhaps use them as a roadmap to where you believe happiness lies. I have always looked to media depictions of women coming of age for answers.

Becoming a woman and falling in love is a narrative that I do not believe gets the respect it deserves in media and in life. And yet, it is one of the most profound and transforming experiences that has informed so many key parts of my existence.

Watching Sabrina, I remember that I don’t know anything. I remember that the things I watch from afar with envy may not bring me the joy I think they will. But most importantly, I remember how complex my emotions are. To be a woman and see that onscreen is always magical to me. Every single time.

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