About 30 minutes into the film, we are introduced to Nola’s father, Sonny Darling, as he presents the audience with yet another male view of the protagonist. Sonny speaks of Nola’s younger years, saying that his daughter “was never one who could keep her mind on any one thing for too long. Every month it would be something else.” (30:05). This gave me the impression that Nola was indecisive and unable to commit, and that the reason she was with more than one man was simply because she could not decide which one she wanted most. So she decided to have them all, to have “it” all. Although this act can be indicative of Nola’s control over her life, and representative of her capacity as liberated woman to engage in sexual polygamy , I don’t believe that indecisiveness is the root of Nola’s behavior. Nola was with three men because she needed something from each of them. Each one provided her with something that she couldn’t get from the other two, and it was only through the combination of her lovers that she was able to be satisfied (at least for the most part). As Greer so eloquently put it, “Nola saw Mars, Jamie and [him]self as a whole. Not as three separate individuals, but as one organism. [They] let her create a three-headed, six-armed, six-legged, three-penised monster.” (1:12:45).
However, this monster still wasn’t enough. It wasn’t the “it” that she desired. I say this because Nola didn’t seem completely satisfied with her men individually. Although Nola loved Jamie (in fact, he was the only man in her life that she vocally expressed love for), he wasn’t what she needed. Jamie wanted “a wife, that mythic old-fashioned girl next door” (1:19:09), and that was not on Nola’s agenda. Mars, who Nola insisted was just “in like” with her and not “in love”, made her laugh and have a good time, but was too immature. As for Greer -even now I can’t fathom why on earth she was with a person like him other than for the reason that he was a very good looking man- his desire to refine her, to polish her up so that she would become the perfect addition to his self image was not right for her. So, when pressed to choose between her lovers, she cannot- not because if indecisiveness but because no one man provided her with all she desired. The question becomes this: if love, laughter, and whatever it was Greer had to offer was not enough, what is? Even Jamie, frustrated that he alone cannot fulfill Nola, pleads with her in a kitchen scene “Sweetheart, what are you searching for?…. Do you honestly ever think you’re gonna find it?” (1:03:47). Truthfully, Nola has no idea.
My efforts to define “it” led me to the very last line of narration in She’s Gotta Have It. Nola ends the film with a statement describing her male and female friends as “a number of people who all claim to know what makes Nola Darling tick.” She “think[s] they might know parts of [her]”(1:19:23).
Why parts, and not the whole? For a woman who bluntly speaks the truth and tells it like it is, is she unable to be her full self with her friends? Or does she believe that she is only viewed in a sexualized light, and so assumes that that’s the only part of her we know? Is there no one she can be her whole self with? Perhaps the “it” that Nola’s gotta have is a person with whom she can be her entire self. She’s searching for someone who understands all of her, and is capable of providing her with love, laughter and the additional “it” which she herself cannot define. But until the day that person (or persons) arrives, Nola will continue to supplement her “it” with “lovers who will have to do”.