This Movie Changed Me

The Way We Were

Sophie Krueger

Last Updated

February 16, 2021


The Way We Were is a quintessential breakup movie. Told across decades, it stars Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford as two wildly different people growing together before eventually growing apart. Writer Sophie Krueger says the 1973 movie has resonated differently over time. As a child, she idolized Streisand and loved her portrayal of an independent woman charting her own course. As an adult, she recognized the stakes of any romantic relationship — and how the differences that excite you initially can become irreconcilable.

PS (Movie friends — We’re hosting a live virtual event, and you’re invited! Join us for ‘Yentl’ Changed Me on Sunday, February 28th at 12 p.m. ET. Free tickets are available now.)

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Guest

Image of Sophie Krueger

Sophie Krueger is a writer and pop culture-obsessor from Chicago. She co-hosts Girls Like Us, a weekly podcast about young adult literature. Follow her on Twitter (@kruegrrl).

Transcript

Lily Percy, host: Hello, fellow movie fans. I’m Lily Percy, and I’ll be your guide this week, as I talk with Sophie Krueger about the movie that changed her, The Way We Were. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen it. We’re gonna give you all the details to follow along with this Barbra Streisand goodness.

[music: The Way We Were by Barbara Streisand]

I don’t remember a time before The Way We Were. The Way We Were was a movie that I used to watch whenever it was on television, with my mother. No matter if it was the middle of the movie, the beginning of the movie, almost the end, we would stop whatever we were doing, and we would watch the television and cry over the love story that was unfolding between Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.

[music: The Way We Were by Barbara Streisand]

The thing that was so special for me about The Way We Were was the Barbra Streisand character, the Katie character. We see the movie begin with her in college. She’s a political activist, a communist. And she is someone who is inspiring and strong, and very, very clear about what she believes in and what she fights for. And in college she meets the Robert Redford character, named Hubbell Gardner, who is this WASP-y, privileged white man, jock, you name it; everything comes too easily to him. And yet the two of them form a sort of strange friendship from afar.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

The rest of the movie tells the story of the actual love story that unfolds between the two of them. We see Katie and Hubbell after college, once they’re thrown into the adult world and the realities of the time period. And we continue to follow them as they meet each other again, date each other, fall in love, break up, fall in love again, and continue this relationship that spans decades.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

It’s hard to endorse a movie that is a quintessential breakup movie. You know from the beginning of the movie, Barbra Streisand is singing “Memories” because she’s talking about memories of a relationship that she’s no longer in. And yet, the whole movie is about the reality of what a relationship can be — in the moments when we’re all growing together, and also in the moments when we grow apart.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

Ever since we started this podcast I’ve been trying to find someone to talk about The Way We Were, just because I feel like there’s so much to learn from this movie when it comes to relationships.

And that’s something that the writer Sophie Krueger really took in. She was brave enough to watch this movie with her boyfriend, and the movie actually did the opposite of what you’d expect — they didn’t break up. And instead they decided to take more risks together and be present for each other in this relationship, which Sophie wrote about in her piece for Bright Wall/Dark Room.

One of the things that I really loved from my conversation with Sophie that you’re about to hear and that I’m continuing to process, because I don’t think I have the wisdom that she has in relationships, is the concept that you can be with someone, and you have to accept them for who they are. It’s something we often say in life; you know, “Accept the person for who they are.” That’s kind of a cliché you hear. But it’s an entirely different thing to take that in, to be in relationship with someone and say, “I’m going to accept you for who you are, and that might mean we can’t be together.”

[music: The Best Thing You’ve Ever Done by Barbara Streisand]

So usually when I talk to people for this podcast, I ask them to remember the first time that they saw the movie that we’re gonna talk about. But since I know that you actually saw this movie the first time as a kid, what I’d love for you to do is to talk about the first time you watched it with your boyfriend, which I find very brave, because, as you said, it’s quite the breakup movie.

Sophie Krueger: It’s such an insane, psycho breakup movie.

Percy: So just take a moment; I want you to just close your eyes, and for about ten seconds — and I’ll watch the clock here — I want you to just think about that first time you saw it with your boyfriend and how old you were, where you were, and what memories come up for you.

So what came to your mind?

Krueger: So I was actually thinking about this, this morning, when I re-watched the movie, but it was probably about a year ago, almost to-date. So it had just gotten cold outside in Chicago, and I was in the end of my first semester of senior year of college. And we had been watching Sex and the City the night before, because — like every woman, despite — across generations, everyone my age loves that show.

Percy: You can’t not, it’s true.

Krueger: You can’t not, no.

Percy: I resisted it for so long, when it was on.

Krueger: No, me, too. You can be the most politically conservative or politically radical person, and that show — you will absolutely love it and be like, “There’s nothing wrong with this show.” And then you’ll watch the horrible, problematic episodes, and you’ll be like, “OK, but there’s nothing wrong with this show.”

Percy: [laughs] Accurate. So there’s the famous scene where they talk about The Way We Were.

Krueger: Carrie is talking about how there is an upcoming engagement party for Natasha and her ex, Big.

[excerpt from Sex and the City]

Krueger: She is really pissed about it, because she thinks that Big was “her person,” who — I guess we’ll learn, later in the series, spoiler alert, [laughs] that he is.

[excerpt from Sex and the City]

Percy: And she keeps also asking, what is it about her; what it is about her that he chose her.

[excerpt from Sex and the City]

Krueger: Exactly. And I think it’s Miranda all of a sudden yells out, “Hubbell! Hubbell!” And everybody’s like, “What?” And they’re like, “Oh, my God.”

[excerpt from Sex and the City]

And then Samantha’s like, “What are you talking about?”

[excerpt from Sex and the City]

And they’re like, “You’ve never seen The Way We Were.”

[excerpt from Sex and the City]

And then Carrie starts singing.

Percy: [laughs] “Memories.”

Krueger: Carrie starts singing “Memories,” which is hilarious and such a Sarah Jessica Parker moment.

[excerpt from Sex and the City]

So we had been watching that episode, and Nick, my boyfriend, was like, “What are they talking about?” And I was like, “You —” I did the exact same thing. I was like, “You’ve never seen The Way We Were?” which was like, of course, he really has not seen that movie. So I was like, “We should watch it tomorrow night.” And I really did not think about it. And so we were at his old apartment, and we ordered Chinese food for delivery, and we waited until it was delivered to start the movie. I know, these details are very exciting. [laughs]

Percy: No, you’re setting the scene. I love it. I’m here for it.

Krueger: And we watched it on just his laptop. We bought it on iTunes and watched it on the laptop — you know, college apartment chic; no one has a real TV. And I just remember it coming on; and so there’s the in media res scene, where it starts. And they’re at this bar, and Katie, Barbra Streisand’s character, sees Hubbell, Robert Redford’s character, and he’s strangely asleep, sitting up.

Percy: It’s so strange, yeah. [laughs]

Krueger: It’s so weird. It is bizarre. So he’s asleep, sitting up, and then that’s when it cuts back to what I consider the opening scene to be, which is the first time we hear the theme, sung by Barbra Streisand, that we hear like 19 more times throughout the movie, over the beautiful shots of the college campus, and he’s running in that beautiful gray tracksuit. And as soon as the song kicked in, I was like, “This was a bad idea,” because I am the world’s foremost movie crier.

And we had been dating for like a year at that point, almost, so it’s not like I was ashamed to be crying in front of him, but I was like, this is — and I forgot even that she was a writer, and I’m a writer.  I forgot everything about the movie. And I was like, “This is too much” — through the entire movie.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

Percy: So I’m curious, because when you first watched it as a kid — I love that you mentioned Barbra Streisand, because her character — that’s all I really remember about that movie from watching it over and over again as a kid, was just her. I don’t think I ever really thought about Robert Redford’s character very much, to be honest. [laughs]

So I’m curious what the experience was like — even though you had blocked certain parts of it — watching it with Nick; with your boyfriend. What was the experience like, watching it with him? And what was the conversation like at the end of that?

Krueger: We were watching, and I had just been crying, and it kind of was late enough where, when the movie ended, we were kind of just falling asleep. And I was like, “That was just brutal.” I was like, “I feel like I have been through the wringer.” And he is a little bit more subtle in his emotional expressions and his reactions — there are certain things, obviously, as with anyone, that will really trigger him, but it usually takes him a while to think about things. And so he paused for a minute and was like, “Well, because that’s us? Or that could be us?” And I was like, “Well, yeah,” because even when you have everything going for you in a relationship — we are two people who are very privileged to be college-educated, and we share similar political views and have similar family backgrounds, and —

Percy: Which is different from Katie and Hubbell, actually, because the whole point of those two characters, of Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, is how different they are.

Krueger: Totally. That’s what draws these two characters apart. But I think that the values of these characters shift over time, and I think that the really tragic part of it is that they don’t recognize that their core values are necessarily different at the beginning. It’s kind of similar, for my boyfriend and I, where aesthetically we’re pretty different, but deep down we believe ourselves to share these fundamental values.

But the scary thing about it is, as shown through this movie, is I think these things reveal themselves over time to be — the things that they once thought were exciting are actually irreconcilable differences in a relationship.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

Percy: You said it really beautifully in your piece. You talk about, “Time is the condition from which the relationship eventually suffers and dies.” And I love how when you talk about watching that with your boyfriend, you started to ask yourself, “When is this gonna happen to us?” [laughs] which makes sense to me, having seen that with him.

Krueger: Totally.

Percy: And you say, “How do two people recognize that at some future point imperceptible to their current selves, they may break up and resolve to continue loving each other without boundary or trepidation? I guess this is a question that people in relationships at any point must ask themselves every day; that it only feels new to me because I’m in love for the first time. I’ve only just now come to understand the stakes.” It’s really perceptive. And brutal.

Krueger: I think that being in a relationship, in a sense, where you love the other person so much, is always going to be brutal.

Percy: And risky.

Krueger: And risky, but I think that “risky” undervalues it, because “risky” sounds like there’s a risk/reward to it, which is true, but it sounds more like a game, where, when you — I think that’s something you don’t realize, when you’re entering your first relationship where it’s real and where it has life stakes, is you don’t realize how much you will eventually end up changing as a person, and how much stake somebody else will have in your life, where you get to the point eventually — so now we’ve been together for about two years, and my boyfriend and I live together now.

And so not only do we have this emotional commitment to one another, but we have a very practical commitment to one another. I just feel like there’s no way to wrap your head around that sort of thing until you just jump into it, feet first. And in watching this movie and consuming other forms of media — and also having friends and knowing people — at least, myself as a neurotic fatalist, all I can ever think about is, when is it gonna end, who’s gonna end it, and why? Will I be the one who has to pick up the pieces, or will it be him?

I feel horrible, even saying it out loud, but that’s the —

Percy: No, but that’s always present, actually. I think you’re naming something that is always present…

Krueger: It is.

Percy: …every relationship, is that there is a beginning, and there is gonna be an end.

Krueger: Right. And it’s like, does it end when — I’m 22, and I literally am walking down the street, and I’m like, “Does it end when he dies?” [laughs]

Percy: And you alluded to this right now, which is, “or does it end when both of you change so much that you can’t be together anymore, or things get too hard?”

Krueger: And that’s the hard thing is because you want to celebrate change with your partner, and you want to encourage them to grow, and that’s part of, obviously, what we’ve now all acknowledged makes a healthy partnership, is that active engagement with change and with growth. But also, what happens if that person changes to something that you either are not interested in or attracted to or that is maybe even harmful to you? And it’s scary.

And that’s something I also think about, which is encouraging my partner to pursue his goals and to think about what he wants to do, especially because we are still in this crazy transition point in life. We’ve both just graduated college; we’re working — he’s working an entry-level corporate job, I’m still in the food service industry. As I encourage him to do these different things and try different things, and he does the same for me, it is going to involve insane life changes.

We’re still at the precipice of all of this change, and I’m like — I also don’t really want to reach a point in my life where anything stabilizes and that it becomes predictable. So it’s trying to strike a balance between, OK, I know I want this person in my life, and it is good for me to have this person in my life, but also, I need to do what is good for me and what is going to facilitate my own growth.

And that, I think, is what these characters run into in the movie. They start to hinder each other’s — who they are at their core, as people.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

Percy: What you and your boyfriend sound like you have, you’re both Katies. You’re both incredibly challenging of each other. But one of the things that I find so difficult about watching the movie now is that character of Hubbell. Essentially, she’s asking him to be his best self, and he just doesn’t want to do it. He just does not want to be challenged, because things are just too easy for him.

Roger Ebert, in his original review, he wrote this amazing line about the character of Hubbell. And he basically says, “The primary purpose of Hubbell is to provide someone into whose life Streisand can enter and then leave.” [laughs]

Krueger: [laughs] That’s amazing.

Percy: [laughs] And I was like, that is accurate.

Krueger: That is so true. That’s accurate. But it’s funny, because I have entered this situation now where I’ve projected myself onto the movie so much, I don’t see that. And I resent him, and I resent that character, but I also am like, in my reading of the movie, his best self is that capitalist …

Percy: WASP.

Krueger: … man’s gotta do — yeah, right, capitalist WASP. That is who he is. That is who he was bred to be.

Percy: Privileged; one-dimensional. [laughs]

Krueger: Exactly. And I’m just like, yeah, that’s — some people are just one-dimensional.

Percy: So that’s interesting. And do you think that that’s it — that she doesn’t want to accept that he is just that?

Krueger: I don’t know; that’s tough, because I don’t know if she really — I think that there’s a selfishness to that Katie character too, where she wants to have the hot WASP-y husband.

Percy: That’s true.

Krueger: I think that there is — it’s on both sides, where she has this thing that’s internalized into a lot of heterosexual women, especially those who maybe don’t feel good about the way they present their bodies or their identities, within what women are supposed to be. There’s this idea that having a really, really hot husband who’s killing it in the Hollywood market validates your existence.

Percy: You get the sense that she’s just grateful to be in his presence.

Krueger: Totally.

Percy: And that’s heartbreaking.

Krueger: Right. And that goes back to my idea that there is this intrinsic validation in that relationship for her that is, when you boil it down, selfish, but also a means of survival.

Percy: So you know, one of the famous scenes that we alluded to, with our talk about Sex and the City when they talk about the movie, is that last scene, where they see each other after many, many years. And she says, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” I’m just curious, when you re-watch this movie now, what are the scenes that really resonate for you, particularly in this relationship that you’re in?

Krueger: Well, definitely the last scene. The last scene is, like you said, iconic.

One of the scenes that has always resonated for me is when, after — I don’t know if it’s their initial breakup, but after the breakup she is back at her little apartment, and she calls him and is like, “I want to talk this over with my best friend, but you’re my best friend. So, what are we supposed to do about that?” And he ends up coming over, and —

Percy: Not only that, but she basically begs him to come over.

Krueger: Right. It’s very sad.

Percy: It’s so painful to watch that scene, for me, because if you’ve been through a breakup, you know that that’s your first inclination, is just to — you’re like a drug addict. You’re like, “Please come back. Please come now. Whatever you need, I’ll do it.” [laughs]

Krueger: And that sort of intimacy that you have with that person, you can have the best friends in the world, but the intimacy that you share with your partner, especially if it’s been a long-term relationship, is totally unmatched by a lot of other relationships in your life, save for maybe if you have a really great relationship with your parents.

And being able to — having gone through something so catastrophic as their breakup, the only person whom she would feel be comforted by would be him. And she can’t possibly imagine talking with anybody else, and she thinks she’s gonna die if she doesn’t talk about it, because that’s kind of how those things work. That’s always been particularly heartbreaking for me, just because it’s like, she is so debased.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

Percy: One of the beautiful things about movies that I know you know very personally is, they change as you watch them over time, and they change as you get older. And I’m curious how this movie has grown with you and changed for you — first as a woman, because we’ve talked a little bit about how Katie, the Barbra Streisand character, just is so iconic and influential, to any woman who watches it, but I definitely get that sense from you, and I relate to that. So I’m curious how the movie, and maybe even her character has changed for you as a woman, over time, and then also how it’s continued to evolve within your own relationship, because I imagine — has Nick read your piece? Did he read the piece you wrote about it?

Krueger: He did read the piece I wrote about it. I was very nervous to have him read it.

Percy: I can imagine. [laughs]

Krueger: So I think that when I watched this movie as a child, Streisand was always very aspirational to me, especially being a weird theater geek as a child. She, to me, was — because basically, my mom was like, “Barbra Streisand’s the best. Here, let’s watch this movie,” I was like, yes, this is the pinnacle of womanhood — Barbra Streisand.

Percy: Yes, agreed. [laughs]

Krueger: Which is so true. In my 7th grade literature class, we had to give a presentation on a biography, and I did the biography of Barbra Streisand.

Percy: I love that.

Krueger: Everybody else did, like, LeBron James. I was like, “Barbra Strei-sand. Heard of it?”

But, so as a child, it was all about the aspirational Barbra Streisand. I couldn’t care if Robert Redford lived or died; I was all about her and the pedestal I had put her upon. And then watching this movie with Nick, the big thing for me was just the pathetic-ness of her character. And we were really at a crossroads in our relationship, at the point in which we watched it, where we were like — my original plan after college was that I was gonna move out of the country in some capacity, and I was at the decision point for that and working through a lot of different options. And that was just really not an option for him, and it was not something that I felt comfortable, at that point in our relationship, asking him to do for me.

So the focus, when we watched it together, was very much on, oh my gosh, this pathetic character, she’s begging for him to be with her, she’s begging for him to talk to her, and this is doomed, and we are doomed, and what do I do? Do I cut and run now, or do I double down? — because that’s kind of the point where we were at in the relationship, where it was like, OK, either —

Percy: Had you told each other that you loved each other at that point?

Kruger: Yes. But we had not discussed any post-college plans until —

Percy: The future.

Krueger: Yes, at all, because it was just not something — we both knew that we had these individual plans, but we hadn’t synthesized what that would look like for both of us. So in the time between when I wrote the piece, which was right before the end of the year, and when it came out, we had decided to just stay in Chicago for a year and that we were gonna live together and try to work things out. So that was also good, that I let him read it after we had made these decisions…

Percy: [laughs] Yeah, no kidding.

Krueger: …which was unintentional, but that was kind of the preface. When I finally sent him the piece, that was the preface with which I sent it. I was like, “I wrote this before we made all these decisions. I feel totally stable now, but this was written in a period of intense instability.” And now — when I watched it this morning, being at a much more stable point in my relationship, where I’m not really relating to it from that aspect anymore — just think about how the way that socially, women are pushed towards pursuing heterosexual relationships as a means of not only economic stability; it’s almost compulsory to pursue marriage as a means of survival, especially in this period —

Percy: Or as validation, like we were talking about; self-worth.

Krueger: Exactly, but also emotional validation and self-worth, because we see this man on the pedestal, where everything comes easy to him, and he’s very much just a representation of WASP-y America and the upper class as a whole and our founding fathers, and that’s her way of making herself visible within the American social system, is by being with this man.

Percy: And she’s Jewish and, we assume, lower-class or at least, lower-middle class.

Krueger: Right. And something that is really troubling, as a woman and as a woman who has relationships with men, is how you’re always going to be, in a way, participating in a system that’s unequal and inequitable and favors things that women had to do to survive.

Percy: And yet, that end scene kind of contradicts that idea, doesn’t it? Because we see her, fully herself and not with him.

Krueger: Right.

Percy: Which is the message that I will choose to take away from it. [laughs]

Krueger: Yeah, but she’s had to raise a child without him —

Percy: With another man, who’s a good father.

Krueger: Right. But I also — that’s always been very troubling to me — I think I mentioned it briefly in the piece — is the fact that you can have a child with someone and then run into them on the street and be like, “So how’s the child that we had together?” That’s insane. I don’t know the specifics of their legal situation …

Percy: [laughs] Questions we just don’t ask.

Krueger: No, exactly.

Percy: We’re just gonna assume this is normal … [laughs]

Krueger: We’re just gonna have to let that one go; right.

She ends up being with this other man, but she still is with another man. I would — in my ideal world, obviously, and this is my reality, but you can be a very empowered, independent woman, and still have a male partner. But narratively, I would love to see an ending where she runs into him, and she’s like, “So I’m really influential, and I’ve raised our daughter alone. And you have this beautiful new wife; amazing for you, but peace out. I’m my real self, and you’re still …” And he’s his real self, and that’s the way I’ve always taken it, is that he just needed a pretty wife to be his sidekick and the person he was photographed next to.

Percy: And I think, actually, the ultimate burn of, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell,” kind of gets at that. [laughs]

Kruger: Oh, yeah, totally.

Percy: “You haven’t changed at all.”

Krueger: It’s tough, but I just — it’s funny that you mention it, because it is so obvious that we’re supposed to hate him, and the whole movie is sort of about her working through it. But it’s like, for some reason I have a weird sympathy for him and a weird “well, he’s doing his thing, and we have to respect that.”

Percy: I actually really appreciate that. And I’m grateful to you for saying it, because I do believe that this is a common thing that people can encounter in relationships, is wanting someone to be someone that they’re not. And she wanted more for him, and he just didn’t want that.

Krueger: Right. And that is heartbreaking.

[excerpt from The Way We Were]

Percy: Sophie Krueger is a writer and barista. Her Bright Wall/Dark Room essay, “The Way We Are,” is insightful and wonderful, and inspired this conversation.

Columbia Pictures, Rastar Productions, and Tom Ward Enterprises produced The Way We Were, and the clips you heard in this episode are credited entirely to them. HBO produced the clip we heard from Sex and the City. Columbia Records released the movie’s soundtrack, and Marvin Hamlisch composed most of its music. Columbia Records also released Barbra Streisand’s album The Way We Were, which is a classic and came out a few months after the movie’s release.

[music: The Way We Were by Barbara Streisand]

Next time on This Movie Changed Me, I’ll be talking with writer and fat activist Virgie Tovar about Real Women Have Curves. It was America Ferrera’s first starring role, and she shines in it. You’ve got a week to watch it, before our next conversation.

The team behind This Movie Changed Me is: Gautam Srikishan, Chris Heagle, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Christiane Wartell, Tony  Liu, and Kristin Lin. This podcast is produced by On Being Studios, which is located on Dakota Land. And we also produce other podcasts you might enjoy, like On Being with Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise, and Poetry Unbound — find those wherever you like to listen, or visit us at onbeing.org to find out more.

I’m Lily Percy, and I’ll be thinking about Sophie’s wisdom about relationships for a very long time. Whatever relationship we’re in, let’s try to accept the person we’re with for who they are and not who we want them to be.

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