Women on Film: Surviving a Hot Tin Roof

A weekend with the in-laws, an alcoholic husband and a slinky white slip push emotions to the forefront.

As children, we are taught to take all our bad feelings and put them in a place where we can’t find them. Negative emotions go to a place where they are ignored, starved, and neglected to the point that rebellion is inevitable. And usually at the most inopportune moments. Anger will demand to be expressed, usually over a holiday dinner. Frustration will find its voice, generally with your in-laws. Jealousy will rear its ugly head, mostly at a happy hour in front of all your work colleagues. We could easily kill ourselves with the weight of our own dark emotions, festering and oozing within us.

This is where Elizabeth Taylor comes to the rescue. The screen legend’s indelible performance in the 1958 film “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” shows us the power of expressing our deepest fears, strangled emotions, and thwarted love.

Taylor plays Maggie the Cat, the wife of alcoholic, ex-football player Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman). Maggie and Brick have come to his father’s Mississippi plantation to celebrate the man’s 65th birthday. Surrounded by family drama and dysfunction, Maggie struggles to regain the love of an embittered Brick. But Brick suspects Maggie of cheating with his best friend, who has since killed himself. Maggie wants Brick, and Brick wants revenge.

Maggie the Cat is unquestionably a complex and volatile character, but it is Taylor’s energy which makes her scream. The actress’ own tumultuous private life was one of survival and heartbreak. Paul Newman speaks of her great tenacity, calling her “a courageous survivor, a helluva actress and someone I am extremely proud to know.”

In the end, it’s Maggie who best speaks to her relevancy across the decades. As Brick asks her, “What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?” Maggie simply replies, “Just stayin’ on, I guess. Long as she can.”

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.