Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Purple Rose of Cairo, The

US movie (1984). Orion/Jack Rollins-Charles H Joffe. Pr Robert Greenhut. Exec pr Joffe. Dir Woody Allen. Screenplay Allen. Starring Jeff Daniels (Tom Baxter/Gil Shepherd), Mia Farrow (Cecilia). 82 mins. Colour.

New Jersey in the Depression. Cecilia is sacked from her job and takes solace at the cinema, watching light romance The Purple Rose of Cairo over and over until she catches the eye of the movie's young romantic lead Baxter, quixotic archaeologist (a sort of Noel Coward version of Indiana Jones). Falling in love with Cecilia, he climbs out of the movie Reality and takes her away for what he promises will be endless romance and adventure, leaving the rest of the cast stuck squabbling behind the screen. But things cannot work out that easily: Baxter has no knowledge of the world beyond what has been written into his character; e.g., the prospect of serious lovemaking sans fade-out terrifies him. (Oddly, he seems unaffected by the transition from b/w to full colour.) Meanwhile, wherever the movie is showing, Baxters are forgetting their lines and attempting to leave the screen; producer Raoul Hirsch and the actor who played Baxter, Gil Shepherd, come to town to right the situation. Shepherd woos Cecilia, promising her a life with him in Hollywood, and at last she must choose between the idealized fictional character and the real human being. She chooses reality over fantasy, the human being over the romanticized hero ... and Shepherd, with Baxter gone and his problem solved, promptly ditches her.

TPROC is in many ways a slight work, although finally very moving; it functions better as a fantasy than as a comedy. Interesting is the fact that Allen declines to make this a Rationalized Fantasy: there is no suggestion that the events might be merely Cecilia's escapist wish-fulfilment dreams. Given the option between making her life fictional and settling "sensibly" for the real, she makes the wrong choice – as she seems to realize, returning immediately to the cinema to involve herself in this week's new movie, presumably hoping for a second chance. Yet this juxtaposition is in itself simplistic, for Shepherd's Hollywood promises were surely always, like Baxter's wide-eyed plans, lures towards an impossible fantasy. The chilling message of TPROC is thus that, for the oppressed Cecilias of the world, there is no viable form of Escapism on offer. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.