Rollo’s Problematic Romance

The sincerity and consistency with which Anna Schmid rejects Rollo Martin (aka Holly) thematically impressed me. In The Third Man by Graham Greene we find a female lead who, yes, somewhat standardly, is in love with another character. However, this love is towards a character (Harry Lime) who is presumed dead and stays off-camera for the majority of the movie, is constant. Anna expresses no desire to move on – in fact, on page 82 she states her express desire not to move on. When Rollo states, “You’ll forget him time. You’ll fall in love again” (82) she replies, “I know, but I don’t want to. Don’t you see I don’t want to” (82).

In the book her reply ends with a period, not a question mark, which informs the audience that her question is not genuine – it is rhetorical. Of course he can see she doesn’t want to move on. She has made this plain. However, Rollo doggedly ignores Anna’s position again and again. Why? Perhaps he is a bad novelist after all, pushing a tired narrative that Anna wants no part of.

Rollo spends the entire length of the piece pursuing, which activates all sorts of reader expectations. Perhaps Rollo and Anna will become the grieving friends who collapse into each other’s arms in a moment of rapture. Or, perhaps they will find that their mostly dead friend has brought them together, magically and irrevocably, a bittersweet endstop to their sad journey. Or, perhaps Graham Greene will frustrate traditional story expectations by providing us with a woman who is polite but firm in her refusal of Rollo’s artless attempts to sleep with her.

Why is this an important plot point to consider? When examined even briefly, Holly’s pursuit of Anna is ridiculous – it is inappropriate, unwarranted, unsignaled and unreciprocated. Pages 81-82 describe Holly’s transition into loving Anna, and it is not a romantic conversion. He describes Anna as having a face that lacks beauty and is instead, “…a face to live with, day in, day out. A face for wear” (81). How flattering to be found not beautiful but durable. His short moment at the window sets off his love. As Calloway describes it, “When he had risen half a minute before he had been the friend of Harry, comforting Harry’s girl; now he was a man in love with Anna Schmidt who had been in love with a man they had both once known called Harry Lime” (82). The love is artificial, born of a one-sided look. It means nothing to Anna. It is ridiculous and insulting, and yet the civility of women in Anna’s time restrains her from giving a proper verbal rebuff. Instead she is forced to let him in at all hours, including three a.m.

Consider that decision to visit Anna at three a.m. Up to this point there has still been zero chemistry between the two, and their only connection continues to be Harry Lime. And yet, after a night of drinking, Rollo begins to make his way to Anna’s apartment at 3 am. “…he set out obstinately on foot to find Harry’s girl. He wanted to make love to her – just like that: no nonsense, no sentiment. He was in the mood for violence, and the snowy road heaved like a lake and set his mind on a new course towards sorrow, eternal love, renunciation” (112). Excuse me?

Harry has a serious problem when it comes to women, and his attitude is revealed through how he describes them. Again and again in the book he is said to refer to romance and women as “situations” – an event rather than a person. Rollo’s love is not fleeting – it is momentary, a by-product of circumstance, over as soon as the location changes. And worse, Rollo is completely unable to see his proposed love affair to Anna from her end. Why would she want to live in the world where she casually sleeps with Rollo before he leaves forever? What a strange, pointless degradation to Harry Lime, whom she still loves?

Rollo is a dreamer when it comes to women, and not in a good way.

~Eric

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