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Year of Revisiting #9 – The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

“You can be much more alone with other people than you are by yourself. Even if it’s people you love.”

It had been years since I had seen The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, though as a love story and a ghost story it had stood out in my memory among the many movies I watched as a child.

Rex Harrison plays Daniel, a deceased sailor, who haunts Gene Tierney’s widow Lucy Muir when she moves into his home. What surprised me most about the movie, after maybe two decades since my last viewing, was not Daniel, whose blatant sexism I tried not to judge too harshly by today’s standards, but Lucy, who is a spinster in the most modern, positive sense. After her husband dies, she breaks free of her overbearing in-laws to live with her daughter in a haunted cottage by the water. “I never had a life of my own,” she says early on and throughout the film makes similar statements. When I was young, the chaste love story was the draw and I doubt Lucy’s independence and satisfyingly solitary life even registered. As an adult, I see the movie as a story about a woman making a life on her own.

Daniel haunts the cottage because he died accidentally and has plans in the afterlife to turn his house into a home for elderly sailors. Lucy pretty much takes being haunted in stride. (“You seem to be very earthly for a spirit.”) They bicker a lot in that way that you know they really like each other: “If you insist on haunting me, you might at least be more agreeable about it.” An affectionate friendship develops.

Yet of course they can’t really ~be together~, and the movie handles this pretty well.   My heart breaks a little for normally gruff Daniel in the scene when he sees Lucy with a flesh-and-blood suitor and decides he must go away. The love affair Daniel sees in progress is short-lived: the cad is married. So Lucy once again goes back to being alone, this time without her ghostly companion and, we’re led to believe, for the rest of her life.

“I wasn’t meant to have that kind of happiness and haven’t missed it,” Mrs. Muir tells her now-grown daughter near the end of the film. Is that completely true? I’m not sure and probably neither is she, but for me the movie has become a poignant reflection on independence, being alone, and waiting for the right person, even if it takes a lifetime. For a movie without even a kiss (at least, not between the two romantic leads), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir depicts two surprisingly touching and fulfilling romances, the one between the ghost and Lucy and the one Lucy has with herself.

 

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