Friday, June 19, 2009

Sam Baldwin: Architect of the Public , Architect of the Domestic

All we know about Sam Baldwin's career as an architect, prior to the events of Sleepless In Seattle, is that he designed City Plaza in Chicago (which doesn't seem to be a real place). In the course of the film, we see him at work on a house for a wealthy woman who is very particular about her party platters and has Sam redesign the kitchen and tear down walls to fit in a larger refrigerator. At the beginning of the film, we see Sam sitting at his drafting table in a high-rise office building, with a spectacular view of the Tribune Building (I think it's the Tribune Building. In any case, it's one of Chicago's magnificent pre–World War II skyscrapers). Later in the film, we see Sam at his desk in his home office; not necessarily his only office, but the movie doesn't give us any evidence that he has another office. It would make sense for the character to be an independent architect working out of the home, except when he has to visit a project site; it seems a lifestyle change that Sam would have made to allow himself more time with his son.

Daly Plaza, Chicago—Similar to the fictional City Plaza?

What a telling and poignant characterization. Sam Baldwin, the designer of grand public spaces—buildings for commerce, buildings for government, buildings for communal gatherings—has, in the wake of his wife's death, remade himself as a modest builder of homes, retreated into the domestic sphere.

The irony, of course, is that while Sam busies himself building houses for his clients, he finds difficulty creating a home for his son Jonah. He has unknowingly placed Jonah in a living situation that gives him nightmares (He dreams that their house, built on a dock on Lake Union, has flooded. Upon waking, he calls for his dead mother. Sam finds himself unable to really comfort his son, except by talking to him about his mother). Victoria, the woman Sam dates in the middle of the film, is an unsuitable match; an interior decorator for the same client Sam is working for, she seems as incapable of providing the sort of caring domestic environment Jonah requires as Sam has been (Her attempt to feed Sam and his son is met with sarcastic mocking from Jonah).

Annie Reed is the perfect mother-in-waiting. All one has to do is look at the way her Baltimore home is furnished to see that she represents a domestic ideal formed sometime in the 1950s (One is tempted to believe she inherited the apartment as-is from an older aunt). The viewer knows, from the moment we see Annie moving in her own home, that she possesses the qualities that will make her an ideal wife for Sam and, more importantly, the perfect mother for Jonah.

Annie Reed's apartment. Decorative plates on the wall, lace curtains, embroidered's like grandma's house

After their meeting atop the Empire State Building; after Sam and Annie have married and created a loving, supportive home for Jonah; what further twists did Sam Baldwin's career take? What grand structures and edifices found their way from his drafting table to the streets of Seattle (or wherever the happy couple eventually settled)?

1 comment:

  1. Ah, I love this movie. I've watched it just today! It's romantic, clever, and amazing. But I HAVE to say (and I'm sorry) that "When Harry Met Sally" is even more perfect than this movie. With it's flawless plot, no film can possibly compete with it.