"I love Audrey Hepburn," he said, "except at the end of My Fair Lady."
I didn't ask why. Although I wondered.
Years later, talking with another friend and her husband My Fair Lady was brought up (probably by me, but I can't be sure about that) and she mentioned how she preferred the end to Pygmalion. I asked about the difference since I hadn't read the play, and she said the difference was that in Pygmalion Eliza doesn't go back to Higgins.
I don't remember discussing it any more, but I do remember thinking that if Eliza didn't show up at the end of the movie then My Fair Lady would have to end either after Higgins sings (or "sings" when talking about Rex Harrison) "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" or after Mrs. Higgins says, "Bravo, Eliza." Both seem logical endings, with the former being much more sad.
I wondered, though, if something was wrong with me that I've never felt disturbed by the end of the movie/play. I can see why my friends would prefer Eliza not to show up in the study at the end: she's freed herself from a controlling, self-centered, arrogant, asshat of a man and taken her fate into her own hands. (If it had ended this way for my whole life, I would probably agree with them.) Most people who like the end probably like it because they think Eliza and Higgins are in love and now -- sigh -- they can be together, forever, and get married.
Me? Well, the more I've thought about it since that first time the more I realize that I like the end of the movie/play because Eliza has taken hold of her life and, frankly, I think she's chosen the best life for herself that she could find in early 1900s London.
She doesn't return to Higgins because she's in love with him. Yes, she cares for him a great deal, she probably loves him, but she is not in love with him, as seen here:
Higgins: In short, you want me to be as infatuated about you as he is, is that it?The important bit again: "Not to want you to make love to me and not forgetting the difference between us, but more friendly like."
Eliza: No, I don't. That's not the sort of feeling I want from you. I want a little kindness. I know I'm a common, ignorant girl, and you're a book-learned gentleman, but I'm not dirt under your feet.
What I done-- what I did was not for the taxis and the dresses, but because we were pleasant together and I come to-- came to care for you. Not to want you to make love to me and not forgetting the difference between us, but more friendly like.
She cares about him, probably does love him, but Eliza Doolittle is not in love with Henry Higgins. I've always thought that she looked at him as the older brother she never had or the father she wished she had (although the father position is probably better filled by Pickering).
And Higgins isn't in love with Eliza. "I've Grown Accustom to Her Face" is a song about fondness. About how he likes that she's around. He sings, "I've grown accustomed to the tune that / She whistles night and noon." because it's part of the background of his life making what he thought was a nice life even better and more comfortable. "I've grown accustomed to the trace," he sings, "Of something in the air; / Accustomed to her face." She's made his life better in a smaller, simpler, and, perhaps, stronger ways than he made her life better.
Then why, if it's not love, does she come back to him, right?
Academics and economics.
When she first comes to Higgins she wants to be a girl in a flower shop. She wants to earn a better living for herself. She wants to move out of her social class and into a class that she sees as better. Eliza never expects to live with Higgins, though. She thinks she'd do it like her friend who took French lessons. She'd come to Higgins's house once or twice a week, clear up her accent, get a job in a shop, and move on with her life.
By moving into Higgins's house and working with him on a Daily basis, Eliza is pushed into the world of academia. As she speaks her vowels and practices her "h" sounds and says those tongue twisters she also overhears Higgins and Pickering discussing dialects and the human condition. It's easy to imagine that sometimes she might have even join in the discussions, once she starts to speak-up.
After the ball, knowing that the grand experiment is over, what's she to do?
Can she go on and work in someone's flower shop and be happy?
Can she really marry Freddy?
I don't think she can do either one.
Marrying Freddy's out because he's self-centered and an idiot. If there's any conversation to be had between the two of them, it'll be about him. (His song is about how he feels to be near her, which is sort of flattering, but I'd have more respect for him if he sang about how it felt to be with her.) It's like he thinks she's a trinket that he can put in a case and admire because it makes him feel good to know he has something so nice. There's only status in him, no vigor or life, no real thought. By the end of My Fair Lady Eliza learns how to think and isn't likely to marry just for money.
Working in a flower shop could be more likely, but where's the challenge to Eliza. She's been working and learning for months. Not only does her way of speaking change, but her view of the world (and the world's view of her). Before, she knew how to read and write, but that was all. After, she knows how to analyze what she sees and reads and use it to her advantage. The ball was where the audience sees her using the things she had been taught to her advantage: adapting as the situation changes, and letting the people think of her what they want. Working in a flower shop isn't a place where she could stretch her mind.
She couldn't marry an idiot (if she had, I would hate the movie/play with a passion). She wouldn't be happy simply selling flowers. What other choices did a woman, with no money, have in the early 1900s?
Eliza had another choice. Was it the perfect choice? No, but I think it was better than the alternatives.
Perhaps what really gets to the people who don't like the ending is that the last thing Eliza tells Higgins before showing up in his study at the very end is that she can do bloody well without him, but she, in the end, decides she does need him. I can understand how that could stick in their craws, but I still think that, for the time she lived in, she made the best choice.