Nancy Meyers: Objects are symbols for human emotions in The Intern, Something’s Gotta Give, and It’s Complicated.

The Powerful Symbolism of Nancy Meyers’ Household Objects

The Powerful Symbolism of Nancy Meyers’ Household Objects

Brow Beat has moved! You can find new stories here.
Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 28 2015 8:02 AM

The Powerful Symbolism of Nancy Meyers’ Household Objects

150925_cover
A bathtub can mean so many things.

Universal

No filmmaker is better than Nancy Meyers at crafting the perfect dream home, filling it with enviable objects, and then making it seem like a cream-colored hell. She always finds a way to take ordinary household items and warp them into crushing symbols of emotional turmoil. Big beds become haunting wastelands; his-and-hers sinks laugh at their abandoned owners; paired toothbrushes plead with their owners not to tear them apart. Here are a few of the most salient examples of Nancy Meyers' most symbolic household objects:

Bathtubs

Advertisement

A bathtub can be a symbol of sensuality and romance, or isolation, and Meyers uses it evocatively as both. In It’s Complicated, Jane (Meryl Streep) has a beautiful clawfoot tub in her bathroom, and it's where she begins to regain intimacy with her estranged ex-husband Jake (Alec Baldwin). Throughout the movies, bathrooms are a setting for many different kinds of private indulgence—from weed-smoking to secret phone calls. But for Anne Hathaway’s Jules in The Intern, the bathtub becomes a place of isolation, as she tearfully contemplates the possibility of a divorce.

Toothbrushes and bathrobes

As Jules soaks in her bathtub, Meyers puts her in direct visual dialogue with all the objects around her: We cut from her face, to the his-and-hers toothbrushes on the counter, to the his-and-hers robes hanging from the back of the door. Then we return to her face, crumpling in sadness. The camera notices all these small, concrete reminders of the daily recalibration that a break-up entails—the routine details of cohabitation that are suddenly thrust into focus when Jules contemplates losing them.

Beds

Advertisement

A half-empty bed may be a very explicit metaphor for loneliness, but Meyers uses it deftly. In one of Diane Keaton’s monologues as Erica Barry in Something’s Gotta Give, detailing why she only misses being married at night, the main focus is the bed:

150925_bed

Columbia Pictures/Warner Bros

“Sleeping by myself took getting used to, but I got the hang of it. You gotta sleep in the middle. It’s not healthy to have a side when no one has the other side.”

It’s a short moment that lifts the veil on a character who, until now, has come off very emotionally distant and cold. And in It’s Complicated, a bed is also used as shorthand to express just how long Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) have spent apart—and how much they’ve changed since then:

Jane: Do me a favor, you’re on my side. Can we switch? I feel disoriented.
Jake: Since when is this your side?
Jane: Since ten years ago.
Advertisement

Apart from providing some physical comedy as the two try to switch sides on the bed while also remaining under the covers, the scene also subtly foreshadows that perhaps the two lovers are no longer as compatible as they once were.

Sinks

In It’s Complicated, the symbolism of sinks is clear as Jane plans her renovation with architect and future love interest Adam (Steve Martin).

150925_sink

Universal

Jane: In my bathroom … um … no his-and-hers sinks.
Adam: Okay, sure. No his?
Jane: Just hers.
Adam: And you don’t think in the future you might want a his?
Jane: Oh, god, we’re talking code about my life, right?
Adam: No, no, didn’t mean to be.
Jane: The truth is, in my current bathroom, I have two sinks and sometimes the other sink makes me feel bad.

Of course, it’s not really the other sink that makes Jane feel bad. It’s the idea that there should be a “him,” along with the memory that for twenty years, there was indeed a “him.” The sink is exactly the kind of quotidian, taken-for-granted utility that represents the actual texture of domestic life. And in Meyers’ world, these objects are not just a backdrop; they’re under a spotlight themselves.