Pretty Woman Themes

Pretty Woman Themes


As a prostitute, Vivian is displayed as an individual with little self worth, in a profession that she did not choose. This is revealed as a resounding issue from earlier in life, where she had abusive partners, and was repeatedly labelled as worthless by her Mother. Choosing to become a prostitute was the only other option when she was left penniless and alone. Vivian’s transformation is not only physical in the film, it also involves a realization about her self-worth. From merely one person believing that she was bright and capable, Vivian in turn begins to believe she is worth more than just her physical body, and enrolls to finish high school in San Francisco. It is therefore an uplifting story that shouldn’t focus on Vivian as a prostitute who is saved by Edward. She, in fact, saves herself when she sees her own worth for herself. The focus should thus be on a damaged individual, who fulfills a lifetime worth of potential.

Prostitution as Romanticised

Often in films and books, such as Dickens’ Bleak House, prostitution is presented as the last resort for a heroine, who often ends up dead. Whilst in Pretty Woman, prostitution is the last resort for Vivian to avoid going back home to her Mother, the fact that she cannot pay her rent is shown in a light-hearted manner. Vivian climbs out her window to avoid the landlord, set to the jaunty music of the opening scenes. Prostitution is romanticized to a great extent in this movie. There is one shocking scene where ‘skinny Marie’ is seen dead at the start of the movie, but we never see Vivian or Kit being seriously abused, raped, or attacked, despite their profession. The ultimate romanticisation is embodied in Edward himself: a beautiful prostitute who needs rent and someone to believe in her potential finds both in the same person. Edward is genuinely nice, truthful, rich, and not a creep in any way. The film glosses over drug addictions, depression, and the sordid world of a being a sex worker to present an entertaining, but unrealistic, romantic comedy.


The Garry Marshall film is seen as the reworked version of the ‘Cinderella Story’, a rich man taking a poor young woman and re-inventing her as a graceful and elegant princess. And this is certainly true of Vivian. Edward encourages her to dress smarter, be bubbly instead of falsely brash, and to believe in her potential as an educated member of society. Yet, it is not only Cinderella who is reinvented, it is also the Prince. Edward is a serial bachelor and a workaholic, and Vivian not only teaches him to have fun but that making money is not the be-all end-all. Edward therefore learns to treat people with respect, and buys James Morse’s company as a partner, not as someone who will sell it off in parts. The traditional ‘Cinderella Story’ is almost completely reworked to a more modern standard, where the man is as flawed and in need of rescuing as the woman is. This is cemented at the end, when Edward asks Vivian what happens after the Prince has rescued the Princess from the tower, and she replies: ‘She rescues him right back’.

An Ambiguous Morality

There are two major issues of morality portrayed both Edward and Vivian’s professions: she works as a sex worker, and he a corporate raider. Whilst Edward jokes early on that he finds Vivian’s line of work ‘morally repugnant’, there is nothing beyond this that discusses the ethics of her work. This is especially poignant when he believes the dental floss Vivian holds behind her back is drugs. So Edward is against drugs, and seemingly against prostitution, yet is happy to hire Vivian as a professional escort for the entire week. Then we turn to Edward’s profession. He is a corporate raider who takes apart failing companies, and sells them in parts. Whilst it is legal, it is morally unethical that Edward forces business owners –like James Morse –to sell their business to him, whether they want to or not. Edward only stops being heartless and sees this as morally wrong when Vivian enters his life and actively points it out. Edward must have known his business was wrong before he met Vivian, therefore his change of heart seems to be caused more by Vivian’s disapproval rather than a moral epiphany.

The Social Double Standard

This theme revolves heavily around appearance, and judgement based on what people find out. When Vivian visibly appears as a hooker, with revealing clothes and thigh high boots, she is treated as a hooker, not welcome in the hotel that Edward is staying at. Once she adorns more demure and elegant clothing, Vivian is not only accepted, but praised. Therefore, neither her profession nor her attitude has changed, only her appearance; this stands as an example of social judgement resting entirely on aesthetics. Additionally, one character in particular embodies the social double standard: Philip Stuckfield, otherwise known as ‘Stucky’. He is dismissive, yet polite, towards Vivian when he believes she is merely another one of Edward’s short-lived girlfriends. Yet, when he find out she is prostitute, he automatically assumes he can treat her as one as long as he pays her. His behavior culminates at the end, where his belief that he is of a higher class than Vivian leads him in an attempt at sexual assault. Stucky would never dream of treating any of Edward’s other girlfriends this way. Yet the double standard that occurs when Stucky discovers Vivian’s profession deems it acceptable for him to treat her as he wants.

Unconditional Love

As with many romantic films, an important theme is unconditional love, found in the most unusual of places. The most obvious of differences is class. Edward is wealthy, used to the best treatment and goods, and accustomed to getting what he wants. Vivian is used to a life where she is constantly scraping the barrel, is treated awfully, and has to constantly defend her profession. Despite their many differences, Vivian surprises Edward, and Edward is extremely kind towards Vivian, allowing them to find love in each other. They also love each other unconditionally, despite the obvious flaws in each other. Edward, despite his upper class background, never judges Vivian for choosing to become a prostitute. Also, Vivian consistently believes that Edward is better than his business that tears companies apart and sells them part-by-part. Marshall’s storyline suggests to the watcher than perhaps unconditional love can only be found when you are not looking for it, and in the most unexpected of places.

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