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Film / Now, Voyager

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"My mother didn't think that Leslie was suitable for a Vale of Boston. 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'm my mother's servant. My mother says. My mother! My mother! MY MOTHER!"
Charlotte Vale

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 a 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 (Henreid)...

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.


  • Absurdly Elderly Mother: Lampshaded. Charlotte's mother had three boys in her youth but gave birth to her daughter when she was already in her forties - which is rare but possible depending on what age specifically she was. Her actress Gladys Cooper was only fifty-six, but Charlotte is said to be over twenty.
  • Abusive Parents: Both Tina and Charlotte's respective mothers are abusive. This helps Charlotte understand and help Tina.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Camille becomes an endearing nickname for Charlotte.
  • Amicable Exes: Late in the film, Charlotte chooses to break her engagement to Elliot Livingston. They do so amicably and acknowledge that they'll probably still see each other regularly in high society.
  • …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.
    • 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.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Pre-makeover Charlotte has very thick eyebrows. She gets them plucked, naturally.
  • 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 the brattiness is 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?
  • Call-Back: When we're introduced to Charlotte, Lisa holds her arms open for a hug that the former slowly and awkwardly walks into. After she returns from the cruise, this time Charlotte throws her arms open and hugs her just as tenderly.
  • Chick Flick: One of the most famous woman-oriented films of The '40s.
  • Children Raise You: Downplayed. Caring for Tina does help Charlotte find her calling in life; although she's best suited to raising Tina because she's experienced similar problems and can relate to her.
  • Cool Aunt: June comes to see Charlotte as such after she returns from her cruise a new woman.
  • Costume Porn: Charlotte's makeover allows her to be dressed in lots of 1940s high fashion.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Charlotte jokes that she'll become a crazy cat lady after she decides she won't marry anyone.
  • Cry into Chest:
    • Charlotte collapses crying into Jerry's arms when she realises that he does indeed love her.
    • This is echoed in Cascade later when this time it's Charlotte comforting the crying Tina.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Jerry and Charlotte realise that they can't act on their feelings and they must put Tina first.
  • Disappeared Dad: Charlotte's father died shortly after she was born, with the result that she never knew him.
  • 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.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Tina is introduced with her hair completely down and messy, symbolising her antisocial nature. After being given a pep talk by Charlotte, she's wearing it in Girlish Pigtails. By the final sequence of the film, when she's doing much better, it's in a glamorous updo.
  • 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.
  • Flower Motifs: Charlotte is associated with camellias. White camellias specifically - which symbolise adoration.
  • Funny Foreigner: Giuseppe, the chauffeur of Charlotte and Jerry's touring car in Rio.
  • 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.
    • Jerry likewise insults Charlotte's pre-makeover appearance when looking at a photo and assuming the "fat lady with the heavy brows and all the hair" is another relative.
  • Irony: Charlotte previously fell in love with a man aboard a cruise ship. He would have married her, but her mother put a stop to it. She meets another man on a cruise ship, this time away from her mother's influence...and she can't be with him for different reasons.
  • It's All About Me: According to Jerry's friend Deb, Isabelle likes to go on about what a "self-sacrificing mother she's been" - ignoring that she made Jerry give up the work that made him happy to provide for her and their children, which ended up causing a nervous breakdown (in the book anyway).
  • 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 camellias Jerry sent her.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Charlotte could be seen as a deconstruction. As the Old Maid of the family with mental health problems, she's kept in a room on the highest floor of the family's mansion. Instead of this being to keep her safe from the cruel world, it's instead conditioning brought on because of her mother's wishes. By letting Charlotte out into the world - and giving her the right therapy - she's able to blossom as a person.
  • 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.
  • 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 mistress. 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.
  • Nice to the Waiter: A contrast is drawn between Charlotte and her mother in this regard; Charlotte treats all the servants nicely, even giving some of her old clothes to one of them. Her mother orders them about like dogs.
  • 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.
  • Pet the Dog: Charlotte's mother leaves the majority of wealth to her, even calling her "my beloved daughter" in the will.
  • 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.
  • The Remake: It's subtle, but the telenovela La otra takes a lot of background and plot points from the movie: the mistreated daughter of an abusive female patrician who did not wish for her to be born develops mental health issues as a result of her mother's constant emotional and financial abuse. She briefly finds love but her mother takes it from her because of her need for control and she becomes a recluse and an "old maid". Later, she has a full mental health breakdown but a kind friend and a nice doctor bring her to a sanatorium and she recovers. She goes on a cruise, gets a makeover, and has an affair (briefly under an assumed identity) with a man who is abused by his manipulative wife and tries to protect his daughter, whose experience of abuse echoes the heroine's. The heroine ends up developing maternal feelings for the child, whom she supports and loves, fulfilling her longstanding desire for a child. Other similiarities include a short-lived attempt to get over the man she loves through a more reasonable engagement and her finally standing up to her mother, who proceeds to fake a fall down a flight of stairs. Besides, the protagonist briefly considers the nickname Carlota (as a secret nickname that her surrogate daughter might use).
  • 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: Dora, the nurse who tends to Charlotte's mother. She's more than a match for the old battleax (as Charlotte puts it: "Dora, I suspect you're a treasure.").
    Mrs. Vale: Dora, I want my head rubbed, my pillows fluffed and another of those hot toddies.
    Dora: (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.
  • Spiritual Successor: Better With Bob views the book and film as Jane Eyre for the 20th century - as a story about a woman transcending her abusive childhood and fighting for independence in her own life. Conversely, Charlotte could be the Spiritual Antithesis to Bertha Mason; rather than being the Madwoman in the Attic and an obstacle in a Love Triangle, she's the protagonist who overcomes her mental illness and breaks out of her prison (metaphorical in this case) to live a full life.
  • Staircase Tumble: The malevolent Mrs. Vale pulls a tumble down the stairs 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 with 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.
  • Unexplained Accent: Jerry speaks with Paul Henreid's Austrian accent, and his daughter Tina speaks with an American one. We can only assume that the unseen wife and mother Isabelle is American, and Tina's speech patterns came from her.
  • Youngest Child Wins:
    • Charlotte is the youngest of four, and she's the protagonist. She's also the one who inherits her family's wealth when her mother dies.
    • Tina is likewise the youngest in her family.