Room at the Top, directed by Jack Clayton in 1959, follows the story of an ambitious young man, Joe Lampton. Joe has recently moved from a Dufton, to Warnley securing a good but poorly paid position at the Borough Treasurer’s Department. He is evidently not a man of wealth and tries desperately to reach the top of the social class in his new living environment. On the way, he falls in love with two different women, the daughter of the local industrial powerhouse, Susan Brown and an unhappily married older French woman, Alice.He struggles to gain the recognition and respect of Susan’s parents and people of higher class, especially that of Jack Wales, but eventually he wins the hearts and love of both Susan and Alice. With Susan, he gains higher class and a career that will provide him with enough money for the rest of his life. With Alice, he experiences true love with an older and more mature woman and he is guaranteed a happier life, but in turn he does not acquire his desired wealth and social status. His inability to choose either love and happiness or power and wealth leads to his downfall into his final state of misery and guilt.
Having met both women at the Warley Thespians, an amateur dramatic society, Joe is immediately attracted to Susan, and this attraction is surprisingly returned by the wealthy Susan. As for Alice, Joe’s relationship with her starts off as a friend he would go to for advice about relationships and how to deal with them, but she later becomes an escape to solace for Joe and ultimately someone to fulfill his sexual needs. Susan appears to be an empty headed and naive girl and is superficial as she sees Joe for his good looks and youth. She is willing to leave Jack Wales for a working class man that has just recently moved into town.In the film when Joe encounters Mr.
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and Mrs. Brown and Jack Wales, they belittle him and act in a rather snobbish manner, only the father really holds a bit of respect for him. Every time Jack sees Joe he refers to him as “sergeant” something that Joe gets really annoyed at and feels that Wales is simply trying to ridicule his role as a prisoner of war, seeing that Joe studied accounting while Jack was performing heroic acts to free himself from captivity.
On the other hand Alice treats Mr. Lampton with the utmost respect, but soon realizes that he is self-centered and overambitious.Nevertheless she falls greatly in love with him and is willing to give up everything to be with Joe. Throughout the film he plays with the feelings of the two women and not being able to choose between one of them makes his mind unclear and confused. As aforementioned his inferiority to Jack Wales gives Joe that extra bit of determination to chase Susan and prove that he outdo Jack and win the battle for her affections.
But in order to do this Joe must overcome his fear of lacking the capacity to succeed, the necessary background, poise and overall status.He sees himself as a vulgar human being and possesses no qualities that would give him an advantage over Jack. In the film Jack is portrayed as a character of high esteem and Joe is portrayed as one with lesser confidence in front of higher class people.
After all studying at Cambridge for a science degree meant that Jack was intelligent, had proper etiquette and superiority over him. This competition to better his opponent gives Joe the opportunity to show Susan’s parents that he too can overcome the challenges that Mr. Brown himself had to face, as he was once a man of working class and now he is the most prosperous man in town.Gaining Mr. Brown’s respect also meant that he could potentially work for him and earn the money, power and respect he was looking for, fulfilling his ambitions. Being the silver-tongued man he is, Joe Lampton had a unique way with words. He could charm just about anybody given the right circumstances, but he truly did have a way with the ladies.
“Had I known you were going to be so beautiful I would’ve have brought you some flowers,” the first thing he says to Susan having no fear of Jack Wales’ presence. With this line he catches the attention of Susan who instantly takes notice of Joe’s handsome face.In the same way he is able to constantly persuade Susan and Alice that he truly loves them, each time being more and more sincere.
He is a smooth talker and can gain leverage even over a man of power like Mr. Brown and Jack Wales. As recalled from the film Joe refuses to be bought by Mr. Brown and is rewarded with the hand of his daughter, Susan and once again proves his ability to say what Mr.
Brown wants to hear gives him the upper hand and helps him once again achieve another piece of his social ambition, to wed into a wealthy high class family.At the end of the day, Joe Lampton gets married to Susan Brown, he is promised a great life with lots of green and a beautiful young and naive wife who thinks marriage lasts “till death do us part”. His one true love committed suicide because of the grief he had caused her. He couldn’t make a simple choice between love or money and power.
Maybe money really can’t buy love. Due to his actions, he is left in a state of misery and remorse, but I am sure he has now made it his goal to do to the ones below him what was once done to him. Joe Lampton now has a room at the top.