Film: Petulia

Richard Lester's "Petulia" made me desperately unhappy, and yet I am unable to find a single thing wrong with it. I suppose that is high praise.
Roger Ebert, in his four-star review of the film.

What lies behind that endearing kookiness? It's better not to ask...
Petulia is a 1968 film directed by Richard Lester, starring Julie Christie and George C. Scott. Recently divorced Dr. Archie Bollen (Scott) and newly married socialite Petulia Danner (Christie) are both dissatisfied with their lives. The problem is that neither knows what it is he or she wants. Archie had a perfectly loving marriage until he chose to end it - why, not even he can tell. Petulia creates around her a frenzy of activity to escape something in her life.

The two embark on an affair as a result of simply another one of those inexplicable impulses that mark Petulia's decisions. Their different personalities - Petulia's whimsical intensity and Archie's gentle passivity - gives both a fleeting understanding of what it is they lack. However, that very combination of impulse and lack of resistance leads them to mutually reject their chance at a meaningful relationship.


  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: The hotel built around a parking garage and Archie's Mid-Century apartment seem like sets created for the film to make ironic commentaries on America's infatuation with Modernism in The Sixties, but they're actual San Francisco locations that still exist today.
  • Amicable Exes: Archie and Polo ostensibly come across this way, but their love/hate feelings for one another lead to moments of tension.
  • Call Back: The shots of Archie and his kids running around The Presidio are very reminiscent of Richard Lester's breakthrough films A Hard Days Night and Help!, not to mention two of the birds at the penguin show being named Ringo and George.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Due to the film's non-linear structure, characters, objects and even lines of dialogue that don't seem particularly important (or are even confusing) at first have their significance revealed later on.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Petulia.
    Archie: I should explain about Petulia. She is a kook.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Archie
    Petulia: I'm going to marry you, Archie.
    Archie: It's the Pepsi Generation.
    • Strangely enough, the members of The Grateful Dead who play extras in the scene where Petulia is taken to an ambulance also count.
    Bob Weir: See you later, mama.
    Jerry Garcia: Write if you get work!
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Set in San Francisco, so there are shots of cable cars, Alcatraz, Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge (though the bridge is only seen in a couple close-ups).
  • Hot Guys Are Bastards: Petulia's husband David.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Petulia fits the basic definition, but her portrayal is more like a deconstruction of the trope, showing the less-than-pleasant circumstances that can lead to someone developing that personality.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: An unusual, non-horror example. We wonder what's wrong with Archie. There must be a reason why he left his family. He can't have left for no reason at all...surely?
  • The Sixties: A common audience response is that Petulia doesn't feel like a film of the sixties as much as a film about or looking back at the sixties.
  • Upper-Class Twit: David.