The opening scene in “Sunset Blvd.” became one of the most iconic sequences in cinema history. We meet Joe Gillis, an unemployed screenwriter, in a very unusual way. He’s floating dead in a swimming pool, recounting his doomed personal and professional involvment with megalomaniac silent movie star Norma Desmond (a wonderful Gloria Swanson). Norma lives in an eerie mansion on Sunset Boulevard with a sinister butler who used to be her favored director and, incidentally, her first husband. When we first meet her, she is holding a midnight funeral for her pet monkey. We learn that she hasn’t been in a movie for a long time, and she’s getting ready for an impossible comeback (“I hate that world! This will be a return!”).
“Sunset Blvd.”, from director Billy Wilder, is a bitter and tragic tale that exposes Hollywood at its worst. It’s a very cynical view of Hollywood that still rings true today. How many actors became stars, then got dumped coldly when they were no longer needed? Norma is indeed insane, but it’s Hollywood that made her this way. She runs from melancholy, to unbridled joy, to complete mental breakdown. One cannot help but feel sympathy for her. In the end, Joe pays the price for enduring her madness. As she descends that staircase in the final scene, we can see that she is completely lost in her own world. A world where she is forever young, and where she remains the greatest star of all. Afterall, “Stars never age”.