While channel surfing the other day, I happened to stop on a movie that was disarmingly familiar. I knew for certain that I’d never seen, or even heard of the film, but still, there was a comforting deja vu to the proceedings. For whatever reason, this lame movie—Abandon (2002) starring Katie Holmes — was pulling emotional responses out of me that the film, on its own, hadn’t earned. It took me ten minutes or so, but soon enough I figured out that the movie was shot in Montreal, on the campus of McGill University, where I studied some years ago.
Honestly, I felt like I was 18 again, and each time I saw a part of the city (disguised to look like a generic US metropolis) that I used to hang out in, it was like I’d been transported back to the emotional landscape of my 18-year-old self. What this means is that my feelings were heightened — like I was on drugs — and things took on a drama and immediacy that was surprising. It was a kind of distillate, one that was pure and simple and it felt good to return to that state.
I think that part of this flood of sentiment was attributable to Katie Holmes, who was, of course, playing a gifted student at the University in the movie. For many of us, Holmes is a sort of archetype, a romantic ideal that for whatever reason could never be attained. When you look at her, you see the possibilities of an imagined future that would never come into being — tragic, yet ever beautiful and unsullied.
Katie Holmes entered into most of our lives in the form of Joey Potter, the center to which all in Capeside, Massachusetts were drawn. Forget about Dawson, who had a distractingly elongated head and an almost simpering manner, and forget Pacey, too, in spite of his obvious cool, the real star of “Dawson’s Creek” was Joey.
The Creek, which ran from 1998 to 2003, was a love letter to the tempesting beauty of adolescence. Gorgeous, hyper-articulate teens parsed their emotional landscape with the self-awareness and maturity, of, well, highly paid TV writers. No matter, we didn’t care if it was actually reflective of teenage discourse, it only mattered that it felt right, and it did.
The program was flush with cinematic moments of operatic intensity. As fairy lights shimmered off the harbor, we would watch Joey Potter, with a look of wisdom and hurt on her face, stare out the window, as the music of some emo band like Coldplay soared in the background.
It was actually an irresistible formula, one that invariably pulled the audience toward optimism, instilling in us the sense that yes, everything was going to work out and true love would be realized. It made us want to go to school the next day, hopeful that our Joey Potter would be there and that maybe today would be the day that everything fell into place and our perfect love finally came into being.
And so, Joey Potter and Katie Holmes, who are one and the same in the public imagination, were idealized and put on a pedestal from the get-go. The beauty of Katie Holmes was simple and unembellished, and she seemed somehow untainted by the cynicism of the world beyond her eyes. She was a kind of home, somebody who suggested permanence and love instead of just sex, although she also suggested sex, which helped, too.
However, Katie Holmes’s career never really lifted beyond her defining role on “Dawson’s Creek.” She was in perhaps a dozen movies, but she never burned with the bright charisma of a star in any of them, serving more frequently as a foil, reduced to a receptacle for the idealized love of her audience.
Her first professional role was in 1997, in the amazing and heart-breaking Ang Lee film The Ice Storm. I barely remember her in the movie, as she played a secondary role, but I think she was the gorgeous, yet accessible girl with whom romantic opportunity was forestalled. And then in 2000, she had another supporting role, this time in Wonder Boys, where she portrayed a smarter-than-you college student.
She had fallen into a rut of playing a kind of brilliant ingénue, and seemed destined to be recast, for the rest of her career, as some variation of Joey Potter. Presumably, this was to change with the film The Gift, in which Katie Holmes was going to march out of her past and into her future, now a fully evolved femme fatale, and as this was Hollywood, this was to be achieved through nudity.
Finally, after all those wanting years, after all those missed opportunities, we were going to see Katie Holmes, the avatar of all the girls we truly thought we loved but could never have, take off her top. The promise of this event was enough to get me, and legions of men just like me, to the movie theater.
In The Gift, Katie Holmes looked amazing, but her nudity was utterly gratuitous, existing only to get the curious into the theater. Colored by violence rather than romance, her moments of exposure, including a few partial glimpses of her as a corpse, were disturbing, a buzz-kill rather than a turn-on.
Katie Holmes Bares Her Nice Berries.(Persian Clip) - The most popular videos are a click away
This probably didn’t help her career, as her next significant role, at least that I can remember, came in 2005 with Batman Begins, where once again she played the role of a pristine and pure childhood love that proved unachievable in the complex, adult world.
And then she got married and vanished into the creepy rabbit hole that is Tom Cruise. For most people whose youths were defined by romantic longing rather than completion, Tom Cruise, in all his banal and toothy glory, is the enemy. He’s the wrong guy, the one who lacks imagination but has a fast car, the dude who makes up in confidence what he lacks in substance. And Katie Holmes, our beautiful future, settled into a life of Scientology, whatever the hell that might actually be, and excellent shoes, with him.
It’s heartbreaking, of course, to discover that the girl we hoped might be perfect for us turned out to think that Tom Fucking Cruise was perfect for her. And now, appearing as a semi-reclusive, remotely controlled Stepford wife, our dreams of Katie Holmes begin to fade away. Receding from our imagination, she becomes a cipher, an unrealizable mystery that will always exist beyond our reach and understanding, but never truly vanish.
Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he’s written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.