Lesssons from Pretty Woman

by Dan on July 17, 2009

On a date this past weekend, I watched Pretty Woman for the first time in its entirety. I’d seen bits and pieces of it as an eleven year old, but had never gotten the full presence of the movie.

I thought there were some relevant lessons from the film for both men and growth seekers in general, so I thought I’d share my gains from watching. There will be spoilers, but if you’ve seen even a half dozen romantic comedies, none of them will be surprises. It’s a “by the numbers” 1980’s romantic comedy with some clever twists and beautiful banter, but nothing that you wouldn’t predict 20 minutes into the movie.

Quick Cast Overview:

Edward Lewis – Millionaire Businessman: Played by Richard Gere

Vivian Ward – Prostitute: Played by Julia Roberts

Philip Stucky – Edward’s Lawyer: Played by Jason Alexander

Kit – Vivian’s Roommate and Fellow Prostitute

Hotel Manager: Played by Hector Elizondo

Those are the important people, and I’ve tried to keep the list as limited as possible.

Lesson 1: Edward’s Strong Frame

Edward is a guy who isn’t shaken easily. In fact, he’s not shaken once the entire movie. At a party, he gets a call from his girlfriend saying she’s ready to move out if they don’t have a serious talk about their relationship and his workaholism.

His response? “Well if you have to move out, I understand. I’ll clear everything with my secretary to make sure you get help moving your things.”

She responds, “No wait, let’s talk about this first—“

“No.  Now is as good a time as any to move, nice knowing you. <click>”

He walks back to the party, not missing a beat. He knows he can find another woman on a moment’s notice if he wants, so he’s has no time for a woman who doesn’t accept his current lifestyle. She’s shown she’s not compatible with who he is at the time being.

In his mind,  she’s not wrong for feeling slighted by his absense.  At the same time, he’s not wrong for being absent in the first place.

It just isn’t a fit, at this point. Now if they were married and had two kids, maybe there would be a case for him to cut his working hours and be a good husband and father. However, they are not married, and have no kids, so he letting the relationship end there is mature and prudent.

Additionally, even when the prostitute Vivian is about to pack up and leave several times in the movie, he honors her choice. He is not happy about it, but values her dignity if she decides this relationship isn’t working out. It’s with disappointment that he almost loses her a few times, but he never loses his resolve. It is clear that he knows he will prosper in every aspect of life, no matter what is taken from him. This is a true philosophy of abundance.

When he does decide to officially change his role from loving employer to loving suitor, romantically scaling her building like a fairy tale prince, this choice is not out of need, but out of desire for more in life. Before he makes this choice, you can see a look in his eye that matches how he responded to his girlfriend leaving him in the very beginning. He’s ready to move on. He did not scale fire escape from fear of loss, but for desire for true fulfillment. This is what true strength of character is.

Lesson 2:  Edward’s Superb Communication Ability

Edward is someone who can say much with few words. When a bellhop makes a request Edward finds inappropriate, he can just look at him with a smirk, and the bellhop will back away and retract what he asked. Edward wasn’t mad, and he wasn’t condescending. He was just amused, and gave a look that said, “You’re serious?” If the bellhop had persisted, Edward would likely have been fine with whatever outcome.

Edward also can talk about the controversial with neutral judgment implied. An example of this is the first night he and Vivian meet. They agree to one hour of her services for 100 dollars. When he offers his coat to cover Vivian’s startling prostitute attire before entering the hotel, she asks what the coat is for.   He coolly clarifies, “Because this is the type of establishment … that does not rent rooms by the hour.” There is neither judgment on the hotel, nor judgment on what she’s wearing. He just makes it clear that this hotel is not a typical fit for men who engage in erotic services with street walkers.

Even at his angriest, Edward is civil, unoffensive, and fair. When his lawyer Philip physically attacks Vivian, Edward uses a minimal amount of his own violence to stop the attack. While he does punch Philip in the face, this is an act of considerable restraint when you consider how the average man would react if a friend attacked a defenseless woman you love right in front of him.

In this scene, Philip chastises Edward for unfairly treating him. He exclaims, “Ten years! I gave ten years to you!” Even as he has every right to rip into Philip’s shallow character in justified outrage, Edward firmly yet passionately corrects him, “I made you a very rich man doing what you loved.” He refuses to let Philip paint himself as a victim. By him not letting Philip take the victim mentality, he absolves himself of being the offender and Philip of being the offended. It is a truly win-win situation.

Lesson 3: Pay a Little More Money, Get a Lot More Value

Let’s look at Vivian’s pricing model for the night Edward and she meet. She charges $100, which is more than she feels she’s worth.

He agrees, and later wants to book her for the night. She asks for $300. That is the cost of three single hours. If he has her for ten hours, that amounts to $30 an hour for her time. An enormous discount.

Later, he wants to keep her for the remainder of the week, roughly 6 days. He suggests $2000, she asks for $4000. They agree on $3000.

There are 144 hours in a 6 day period.

$3000 divided by 144 hours equals $20.83 per hour. He has effectively bought her for 1/5 of her hourly rate. There is much of a benefit to buying in bulk, but rarely an 80% discount. Edward is a true master of his craft.

Similarly, because Edward spends so much at the hotel he stays at, he gets incomparable service, and is allowed to blatantly bring a prostitute up to the Penthouse, despite the chagrin of the employees and clientele.

Lesson 4: Wherever You Are, Be in the World, but Not of It

Most of the movie takes place in the swankiest area of Beverly Hills. The majority of the neighborhood is full of pretentious people of all ages. If there’s a spot on a drinking glass, they are abhorred at the nerve of the cafe’s dish washer. If there’s a wrinkle in the sheet, they have been viciously insulted by their maid.

It takes consistent effort for pretentious types to keep their energy low, their standards sky high, and their rules for being happy so difficult so they can walk through the world in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with life and each other.

Then there are a few people that stand out.

There is the hotel manager who is kind to Vivian and treats her like a daughter. He acts lovingly toward her and does his best to help her fit in.

There is the old businessman at a dinner meeting who affectionately confesses to Vivian that he can’t remember which fork is which, either. He probably was  feigning this vulnerability, just to make her more comfortable with her own.

Edward Lewis is the same. Someone’s social class is irrelevant to him, and that is why he is comfortable bringing a prostitute to a high class hotel. He can fit in pretentious crowds without being pretentious himself.

These people, who are in the world of Beverly Hills but not of it, are completely capable of doing all the necessary things to fit in. They know the order of each fork in a seven course meal. They know the manners required when sharing a limousine. They know the proper attire to a polo event, a five star restaurant, and a formal ball.

However, these are just appearances they permit to exist, while not letting them define who they are. They walk through Beverly Hills with love, kindness, and acceptance. They are not offended by the pretentious, as long as those folk do not mistreat their loved ones. They see the pretentious crowd as equals who have just cut themselves off from enjoying life and people with less extravagant incomes.

The other side of the coin is Vivian and her roommate Kit. Vivian sees herself as a woman who is a prostitute by profession, but doesn’t identify with the role. While she is understandably disoriented in Beverly Hills, and lacking the social calibration to fit in, she doesn’t walk around as an intrinsic outsider.

Kit on the other hand, mocks the pretentious with her own pretension. She is snobby about not being a snob. Rather than go to the hotel to visit Vivian and go through the front desk matter of factly, she ridicules the older, easily offended clientele, and takes pride in her liberty to do so.

What Kit doesn’t realize is that she has her own set of chains bonding her to her lifestyle. Her disdain for other social classes is the exact same as what the  pompously wealthy feel. She assumes that any rich man to visit a street walker in her neighborhood must have something wrong with him. She doesn’t believe in her own value as a professional or as a woman.

The endearing connection between Edward and Vivian shows the freedom you can have when you’re not concerned about the social value of others around you.

Lesson 5: Intimacy is Different for Everyone

To most of the world, kissing is safer for a woman’s heart than sexual intercourse. On any given night at a youth-oriented nightclub, there are dozens of men and women who meet for the first time and feel comfortable kissing. If a married woman or man kisses another person on the mouth, it is considered inappropriate, even cheating, depending on who you ask. However, I think you’d be hardpressed to find a man or woman who’d prefer their spouse have sex with a stranger over kissing him or her.

At the polar opposite, there are women, and a few men, who feel kissing to be sacred, and sex to be a simple pleasurable release.

Vivian is likely in a position where having sex as a profession has challenged her definition of true physical intimacy. Rather than sex being what culminates from true romance, kissing is all she has left.

However, this is not just a prostitute’s belief. In fact, it is not terribly uncommon for women to hold kissing above intercourse in intimate value. In any relationship, however new, it pays to keep an open mind on where someone’s boundaries are, and what action or body part symbolizes what meaning. To some, the feet are more private than the breasts. To others, the ears have a real sexual embodiment. While it is not preferable to ask this up front, in my opinion, one should be open to variances in sexual symbology as they begin new relationships.

If you haven’t seen the movie lately, I suggest giving it another look. It is one of those movies that truly has more to offer as you mature in life.


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