It’s been played hundreds if not thousands of times on the big screen, network television, cable television, VCR, DVD, and BlueRay. And I’ve bought into it in every form. When I was a kid and there were only three networks available (ABC, CBS, and NBC) I scheduled my months around its showing. When cable television expanded to include more than a half-dozen stations, I scheduled my month around it. When VCR conquered BETA MAX in the early 1980’s, I bought the VCR Cassette (un-Godly priced, and in all its edited-to-fit-your-screen-and-for-family-friendly-viewing-format), but then I could watch it when I wanted –which I did, over and over again. When my best friend confessed that he had not seen it (along with “Little Big Man”) I almost choked and MADE him go to the theater (they were playing in a double-billing, which REALLY shows my age) to watch it.
So why does this film resonate with so many? (Okay, I won’t include others in this post, although the film’s popularity and universal recognition as a classic kind of does that for me.)
Sure, Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in it. They are, arguably, the best looking actors of their generation –and two of the best at their craft. But I think the reasons go far beyond that.
The reason is unconditional love.
Now, the term “unconditional” is bandied about quite a bit lately, but how many can honestly…truly…say that it’s true? One can say they love their mate “unconditionally,” but what happens if the spouse reveals a string of infidelities that simply boggle the mind?
“Unconditionally” quickly becomes, “Well, I meant that, but I never thought it would reach this point.”
Sure, there may be those who will immediately go towards the homo-erotic thing in regards to the film, but I don’t think that’s the case here.
Yes, the characters nag each other and even make reference to each other as “being an old lady.” But how else to explain the (almost) sharing of one woman? How else to explain the devotion to each other even as other members of their gang are killed and/or dispersed? How else to explain their mutual agreement to flee the U.S. and head for Bolivia? How else to explain their shared sense of humor, sense of displacement, and sense of inevitability? How else to explain two individuals who know their death is imminent, but are able to accept it –and even joke about it—as long as they’re together?
How many have known or even slightly experienced a relationship like that?
It’s the stuff of legend. It’s the stuff of Hollywood. It simply cannot happen in real life.
But wouldn’t it be cool if it could?
*And if you enjoyed the film and love character driven stories, make sure to check out “Blackthorn,” a (somewhat) sequel to the Butch Cassidy legend starring Sam Shepherd*