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Film / Now, Voyager

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"What man is suitable, doctor? She's never found one. What man would ever look at me and say, 'I want you'? I'm fat. My mother doesn't approve of dieting. Look at my shoes. My mother approves of sensible shoes. Look at the books on my shelves. My mother approves of good solid books. I'm my mother's well-loved daughter. I'm her companion. I am my mother's servant. My mother says! My mother. My mother! MY MOTHER!"

An Academy Award-winning 1942 film directed by Irving Rapper, starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains. A romantic weepie, Now, Voyager is probably a perfect example of the "woman's film" of the '40s.

The story centers around Charlotte Vale (Davis), a repressed Boston spinster whose tyrannical mother (Gladys Cooper) has driven her to the edge of nervous breakdown. Lisa, Charlotte's well-intentioned sister-in-law, feels something must be done. Enter the renowned Dr. Jaquith (Rains), who takes her to his sanitarium to begin her transformation. Part of her healing involves a South American cruise, where she meets the charming Jerry (Henried)...

This classic Hollywood melodrama was well-received at the time, and is seen as one of Davis' definitive films. The scene where Jerry lights two cigarettes and hands one to Charlotte became famous as a subtle way of implying an intimate relationship. The three stars reunited later for Deception.



  • Abusive Parents: Both Tina and Charlotte's respective mothers fit this role. This helps Charlotte understand and help Tina.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Camille becomes one for Charlotte.
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: How Charlotte tells Tina about her difficult past.
  • Animal Motifs: Charlotte is compared to a butterfly, as she wears a cape with one embroidered on it - fittingly in one of the first post-makeover scenes.
  • Beautiful All Along:
    • One of the earliest examples. Bette Davis is first dressed down with glasses, frumpy hair, bushy eyebrows and an unflattering dress - only to get a glamorous makeover early on. However the physical makeover doesn't automatically make her life better; it's just one of the steps. It's also worth noting that the twenty-year-old Charlotte is shown to be quite pretty as well, meaning the makeover is bringing out the beauty she already had that had just been lost over the years.
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    • Tina as well, who's introduced with messy hair, thick glasses and braces on her teeth. For her party towards the end, the glasses and braces are gone and her hair is done in an updo.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Leading to one of the most famous lines in film history.
    Charlotte: Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars.
  • Bowdlerization: The novel made it clear that Jerry had a nervous breakdown similar to Charlotte's thanks to his wife's abusive nature. It isn't mentioned in the film, because of course the romantic male lead can't have mental health problems - but the subtext is still quite obvious to a modern audience.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Tina from her mother's point of view. But Charlotte has been there and knows it's because the girl is hurting deep down.
  • Butt-Monkey: Charlotte's status at the beginning of the film. Her niece's teasing leads to this outburst:
    Charlotte: Go on, torture me. Go on, torture me. You like making fun of me, don't you? You think it's fun making fun of me, don't you?
  • Chick Flick: One of the most famous examples from The '40s.
  • Costume Porn: Charlotte's makeover allows her to be dressed in lots of 1940s high fashion.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Jerry and Charlotte realise that they can't act on their feelings and they must put Tina first.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Charlotte gets engaged to a handsome suitor after coming back to Boston, but she doesn't love him, so she calls it quits.
  • Distracted from Death: Charlotte turns away from her mother for a few seconds, and she appears to have a heart attack.
  • Driven to Madness: Charlotte is here when the film begins. Her mother might not have done this deliberately, but as Dr Jaquith tells her
    Jaquith: My dear Mrs. Vale, if you had deliberately and maliciously planned to destroy your daughter's life, you couldn't have done it more completely.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: Jerry kisses Charlotte while she's asleep. It's unknown if she knew about it and was just pretending to sleep.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: A good portion of Charlotte's post makeover outfits are dresses with sequins or glitter on them.
  • Evil Matriarch: Mrs Windle Vale is a cruel old lady who is openly abusive to her youngest daughter. She isn't much kinder to her other relatives either.
  • Extreme Doormat: Jerry is a pawn of his wife Isabelle, and is constantly apologising and putting Honor Before Reason - in fact wanting to stop Tina's therapy because he feels guilty for Charlotte having responsibility of it.
  • The Ghost: We never meet or see Jerry's wife Isabelle, except for a picture. Most of the information about her we get from other characters.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Dr Jaquith takes Charlotte's glasses off her nose and snaps them in two. Of course in this case it's implied that Charlotte has never needed them - or else they corrected her vision long ago - and her mother insisted on her wearing them to look more demure.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Jerry's wife Isabelle is abusive in the same way Charlotte's mother is to her. This allows their affair to be treated sympathetically by the narrative, even if they don't end up together at the end.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Played subtly. It's said that Jerry's wife Isabelle went to a doctor to try and have him say she wasn't medically safe to have another child (allowing her to abort Tina). Of course she didn't, but the fact that she wanted to is to foreshadow what an abuser she is.
  • Grand Staircase Entrance:
    • Played with once, when Charlotte is dowdy and overweight, played straight the second time, after The Makeover.
    • Tina gets one too towards the end.
  • Innocently Insensitive: June unfortunately pushes a lot of Charlotte's Berserk Buttons early on, resulting in an outburst.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is a quote from a Walt Whitman poem, which Dr. Jacquith reads and then gives to Charlotte.
  • Little Black Dress: A more modest one than most examples, but Charlotte dons a nice one for dinner after arriving home - against her mother's wishes. It's plain, and the only ornament she wears are the camelias Jerry sent her.
  • Maiden Aunt: Charlotte is this, and she's the protagonist! She's vaguely late twenties or early thirties (her actress Bette Davis was 33 at the time of filming) and is unmarried and reclusive. She cynically says to Jerry that every family has one like her.
  • The Makeover: Charlotte is first introduced to us feet-first, walking down the stairs. The camera pans up. We see sensible shoes, fat ankles, thick tights and a dowdy dress. After her makeover, she is re-introduced to us in the same way. This time, we see fashionable high-heels, trim ankles, stockings, and a tailored suit. It is played with a little, though, as Charlotte is still shown to be mentally fragile under her sophisticated new look.
  • Meganekko: Tina wears glasses and they help make her look cute and vulnerable.
  • Mental Health Recovery Arc: For both Charlotte and Tina, in a very ahead-of-the-time depiction for the 1940s.
  • The Mistress: Charlotte is Jerry's. Treating adultery as sympathetic was unusual for a movie made in The '40s.
  • Motor Mouth: June doesn't know the art of short and snappy sentences.
  • My Beloved Smother: A particularly malign example. Charlotte's domineering mother seems to take pleasure in tormenting her.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: Charlotte says this to her mother after coming home from her cruise and her romance with Jerry.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: After Charlotte's "we have the stars" closing line, the camera pans up to show those stars as the movie ends.
  • Parental Substitute: Charlotte takes on this role for Tina. It fulfills a lot of psychological needs for all parties concerned.
  • Parents Are Wrong: The plot revolves almost entirely around the fact that Charlotte's mother is wrong about everything and has inflicted some serious psychological damage as a result. Charlotte's character arc is all about finding herself and learning to stand up to her mother, including one case where she turns down a marriage proposal despite her mother's wishes.
  • Parting Words Regret: Charlotte's mother dies during an argument with her, literally right before Charlotte apologises.
  • Pretty in Mink: Charlotte's new glamorous wardrobe includes a mink coat.
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: Part of Mom's attempt to make Charlotte as frumpy as possible is forcing her to wear glasses she doesn't really need.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Charlotte's outfit when she first has dinner with Jerry has a cape embroidered with butterflies - showing how she herself is a butterfly that has finally blossomed.
  • Servile Snarker: Doris, the nurse who tends to Charlotte's mother. She's more than a match for the old battleaxe.
    Mrs Vale: Doris, I want my head rubbed, my pillows fluffed and another of those hot toddies.
    Doris: (completely deadpan) Which would you like first?
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Charlotte after she gets rid of the frumpy look. Tina as well when Jerry arrives at the house for her party.
  • The Shrink: Dr Jaquith, who runs a retreat for rich people suffering from depression.
  • Smoking Is Cool: The movie's most famous scene features Jerry and Charlotte lighting each other's cigarettes.
  • Staircase Tumble: The malevolent Mrs Vale pulls a tumble deliberately to guilt Charlotte.
  • Stepford Smiler: Jerry is hurting deep down because of his unhappy marriage, but he does take The Pollyanna route most of the time.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: Charlotte can rely on getting a nice inheritance if she complies to her mother's wishes, so she's not written out of the will (though she says she isn't afraid to try making it on her own). Part of something mother approves of is an engagement to Elliot Livingston. Charlotte doesn't go through with the marriage, which her mother disapproves of, but her mother dies shortly after. So Charlotte gets the inheritance after all.
  • There Is Only One Bed: Jerry and Charlotte end up in a variation of this situation in Rio, when they get put in the same cabin of a cruise ship.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Jerry and Charlotte have one after their reunion in Boston.
  • Troubled Child: Tina, who has similar neuroses to Charlotte due to being raised in a similar household.


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