Icons – Caine: Alfie


What makes Alfie so interesting is its convoluted and troubled protagonist and the year it was released, 1966. The 60s were a time of dramatic, cultural change and no film depicts this better than Alfie. It offered a perfect rendition of the shift from traditional, middle class culture towards a dominant, working class one. Innovations in fashion, cinema and pop music targeted the young working class. At the same time, traditional class boundaries started to break down and new consumer values began to take shape. Alfie’s attitude towards clothes and women symbolised the diminishing importance of a privileged background or education.

The swinging 60s was a time of liberation for men and women. In keeping with current trends, Leeds girl Allie moves to London to seek work and romance. She is immediately snapped up by Alfie, whose battles to be liberated himself thwart her desire for freedom and mobility. The film may suggest he is the very emblem of male hedonism but I see Alfie as much more than that; he is a sensitive soul trying to carve his own path in a very uncertain and unruly time. The conflict is evident in one scene where the once rosy cheeked and bubbly Allie is replaced with a very grainy, dull and domestically bored female. Her code of dress shifts from confidence to the stereotypical apron and hair pinned back as she attempts to cook a steak and kidney pudding for Alfie. Michael Caine is brilliant as the oblivious boyfriend unable to comprehend why Allie does not want to cook and clean for him while he has the freedom to pursue outlandish behaviour.

Alfie doesn’t realise his actions will have consequences until it is too late and this is shown within one scene where a woman he gets pregnant has a back-street abortion. This scene is very important because for a brief moment we see Alfie’s vulnerable side as he looks down on the aborted foetus. The close up of his horrified face strikes a chord and instead of breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience in a ‘cheeky chappy’ way, we see him alone and afraid. A curtain separates him from the woman so only the audience can see his reaction. It is extremely voyeuristic as we witness an important moment in his journey; this scene is very moving and shows his sentimental side.

In a bid to change his ways, Alfie attempts to settle down with a sophisticated older woman but discovers she is seeing a toy boy. This revelation further confuses him as to what his purpose in life is. The shift in societal values preys on Alfie’s vulnerable side, causing harm to those around him and ultimately himself as his bid for freedom concludes with him more restricted than before. The final scene is left open to interpretation as Alfie throws a red rose into the Thames, pondering what life is all about. The red rose is very symbolic as it symbolises passion and romance, for Alfie is a ladies’ man. But like Bret Michaels said, “every rose has its thorn” – and as the flower is carried off it’s a metaphor for how easily dreams can be washed away.   “What’s it all about? You know what I mean.”


Rachel Moore

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