Floating on the sheer youthful effervescence of an eager Hugh Jackman, Kate & Leopold is a parable about the sacrifices we make to thrive in capitalist discomfort, and the fantasy of having somewhere to escape it.
This analysis doesn’t work on a rational level; this old timey rich dude hooking up with an account executive is not exactly the most fertile ground for a literalist anticapitalism commentary. I’m also not entirely convinced that the writer would claim a darn thing to say about That C Word, but I’m using it because what we see Kate struggling in is American capitalism when its shine is wearing off.
In order to excel in business, Kate has sacrificed something soft & slow to masculinize herself. She dresses in suits and does not waste time with feminine frippery that would make others judge her. Everyone she spends time with are men. Presumably, it’s some kind of victory that her boss thinks she’s as good as a man; unfortunately, he also keeps making aggressive passes at her too. Sacrifice has given her success but not safety or satisfaction.
We may then see Leopold as a figure representing her alternative. He is disappointed to marry for money, preferring to shun such maneuvers so he can nerd out about elevators and erections. And it’s his disappointment in Kate’s willingness to shill a subpar product that shakes her out of her “this success is everything for me” to realize “actually I don’t want this??”
More than offering Kate a vision of a slower life de-prioritizing profits, he provides gender affirmation to Kate by treating her like a ~lady~, while also loving her for the intelligence and passion she shows. Kate has formed herself into a storm and Leopold loves the power. Old Timey Nerd Himbo stans a strong futch bitch.
It might seem like a regressive ending, but it’s really Kate moving away from deep dissatisfaction with capitalism’s shallow rewards to try something…else. Something genuine. Love is a good start.
I remain convinced that the ending isn’t how the couple ended up, but only a stepping stone to further fabulous time travel adventures.
The time travel mechanic only works in a way that specifically serves the story; you shouldn’t come to K&P hoping for a more romantic Back to the Future. A lot of the story doesn’t really work if you take anything too seriously. The heart of the movie is carried by the performances of actors who understand that this is about some kind of longing for Better, not just in love, but in life.
image credit: Miramax