No matter how practical you are or how cynical you become there is always a small part of you that desperately wants to believe in love at first sight. When Audrey Hepburn steps out of that cab in the early dawn dressed to the nines, small paper bag in hand you are enthralled. By the time she pulls out her coffee and Danish and you see the reflection of her oversized, dark glasses in Tiffany’s venerated windows you are infatuated. In one simple scene the world’s love affair with Holly Golightly is born. (It is important to note at this point that this character breakdown is specific to the film and does not include the Holly Golightly of Capote’s novella who is in certain aspects a whole different woman than the one Audrey Hepburn portrays.)
The question is why. What is it about Holly Golightly that inspires millions to hang her image on their bedroom walls? She is stylish to be sure, possessed of a simple, timeless elegance that simultaneously humanizes her while making her appear unattainable. But style is not in short supply especially not in New York. Is it then her eccentricities? Her absolute refusal to play by societies rules? Perhaps. But while she may drink champagne before breakfast, call he neighbor Fred after her brother, and be delightfully blunt she is still a “real phony” spouting opinions she does not honestly believe herself, assessing potential suitors by their bank accounts, and playing the society game.
There can no doubt that Holly is in pain. It is a well-hidden pain, covered over with idyll chatter and a veneer of glamour. But the random bits of crying, the moments where you can feel her loneliness in your bones, show the crack in that veneer. Then the moment is gone and her mask is restored and we are left heartbroken at the memory of what lies behind it. She is idolized for not having a care in the world. But this carries with it two distinctive draw backs. The first is in order to not have a care you have to not care. And while I’m not advocating for the white picket fence and three kids; to go through life without a cause, a career, a calling of some kind leads to an empty sort of life no matter how busy and fabulous you are. The second is that when you don’t care about anyone else you make it awfully hard for people to care about you. It is clear that Doc and Paul truly love her. But she makes every effort to push them away, afraid of what might happen if she ever stops moving forward.
What I find most interesting about Holly is her relationship to the feminist movement. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is more about Paul Varjack(George Peppard) reclaiming his masculinity than it is about Holly asserting her identity. He shrugs of being a kept man when he discovers a woman he can help, reclaiming the dominant position and winning Holly as a result. Holly herself goes from seeking her own goals to letting herself by subsumed into his. Or as Hollywood would have you believe giving up materialism and a grass is greener mentality for true love and contentment. Not the hallmarks of a feminist icon, but she does manage to avoid being pigeonholed into a female stereotype. She is not the wholesome girl next door you wind up marrying and she is not the sexual fantasy to be chased after. She is new. She is shiny and flawed. Her distinct lack of believability is the most real thing about her.
In the end what drives us to love Holly is her struggle to love herself and her struggle to let others lover her. We the audience have faced these same struggles. If someone so joyous and so fabulous can be so broken then it’s okay that we are too. Holly gives us permission. Permission to be fabulous. Permission to be broken. And that’s why we love her.