Putting the Cat Person on Screen

Snip20171212_5Is it a bit soon to be thinking about this? Never!

Yesterday, a piece of fiction (an important distinction to be delved into later) was published in the New Yorker. A friend told me about it and as I started to read, I felt the need to scratch, that persistent irritation in the middle of the back that it takes an age to locate before relief comes. Except this itch keeps moving and won’t stay still long enough to be scratched. There is no relief for every one of us who has experienced this itch.

And I consider myself a Cat Person (spoiler: there are no cats in this piece). This won’t make any sense until you read it too. You can read it here. I apologise in advance to those of you (and it won’t be all of you, and it might just depend on your gender) who develop that same itch after reading.

Cat Person has drawn from me many emotions: consternation, anger (at myself as well as at my sex), and this odd kind of knowingness tinged with embarrassment, a feeling that conveys looking into a mirror while reading prose. My feelings are extremely mixed, because this is a piece of fiction, based on a small piece of truthful conversation, which the author grew to a 7,000-word one-act play, and that can accurately pinpoint the complicated, circular discussions that go through a woman’s mind when extricated in a dating situation that doesn’t ring true. And why is this woman in this situation at all? Possibly because of the fantasies that follow us through our love lives, particularly those of the princess-meets-prince-quickly-leading-to-Happily-Ever-After-and-that’s-where-the-story-ends fame, that have seeped in to the collective subconscious…and this is where we arrive at the connection to film.

It is easy to ascribe blame to both protagonists in Cat Person. Robert can be characterised in a number of ways, such as: He who makes demands instead of asking questions:

“No, I’m serious, stop fooling around and come now,” 

He who illustrates his hurt by means of the counter-attack:

“Glad to see you dressed up for me,”

Or he who utters the most cinematically haunting of all lines within the prose, with:

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to murder you,” 

It’s important to note that Robert is almost but not quite cast as the antagonist, yet he is not reduced to a stereotype, containing multitudes of irrational behaviour, of nice things he says and does, and of the selfish, strange and rude way he is portrayed at critical junctures. This is a piece written by a woman about a man that grants Robert only some of the page space and still manages to create a compelling narrative, so much so, that almost everyone I ask could find someone who fits his description. And plenty of men who have taken to the web – who likely identify with Robert – feel compelled to shout that he has done nothing wrong.

I’m not coming down on one side or the other, because that is impossible. The genius of Cat Person is that it conveys the choose your own nightmare scenario that we each make when bashfully asking someone out, texting them too many times, or going in for that kiss which may not be gratefully received.

But what I really want to see on screen is a winning portrayal of this female protagonist, and this is a hard job. Margot’s inner turmoil is the subject of the entire article, and it has been conveyed with a clarity that most of us cannot claim to have over our own thoughts. She wants him, she doesn’t, she tries to read his mind, she wants to be with him, but she doesn’t agree with what he says, Margot walks through a psychological minefield where every interaction only serves to confuse her further. And Margot is confused about her own wants and desires as much as she is about Robert’s.

Cat Person, knowingly or otherwise, illustrates the insidious ways that women must navigate life by working so much harder than men; they are taught to please, and to second-guess to fit themselves into a society that has no idea what its asking from them.

I’ve written a 500-word commentary, just to arrive at this question: Which director can put Cat Person on screen ASAP? Because the world will be better for watching a performance that encapsulates the following:

She tried to bludgeon her resistance into submission by taking a sip of the whiskey.

And are they capable of making this anything other than a Horror?

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