July 2nd, 2005


You can't spell analysis without... - Down With Love

I said awhile ago that at some point I'd talk about my views on romantic movies at soem point in the future. Now seems to be that point. Just to keep things clear, this has no significance other than the fact I was watching a movie, I like romantic comedies, and I overanalyze everything.

Down With Love was just on TV. If you haven't seen it you really should. The movie is a compilation of romantic-comedy archetypes assembled in an absolutely brilliant script. While the movie doesn't raise any real questions about the nature of love or desire, it is still well worth your time.

Part of what makes Down With Love so good is how over-the-top it is while at the same time maintaining a serious, almost reverent attitude towards the subject matter. The premise is absurd, almost satirical. Believability goes out the window yet we continue to feel for the characters, if not completely empathize with them. Why is that?

One of my big claims about movies is I want them larger than life. I want movies to be big. I want everything bigger and better than in real life. Fight scenes should explode across the screen with a viscera of violence never seen the real world. Death should be tragic and beautiful while remaining ugly and painful. And romance should sweep me off my feet. When I see a romance movie I want it to play my heart like a cheap violin as it reminds me of every love I've ever had; I want the sweet scenes to remind me of every tender moment I've ever had and I want the painful scenes to remind me of the tears I shed as I felt hopelessly alone. Is that too much to ask from a movie?

The nature of movies is illusion. We sit in a darkened theater or our homes, watching flickering images of light, that were recorded at seperate times yet are presented as if they were continuous, hear actors recite lines of prepared dialogue as if they'd just thought of them, and observe as meticulously planned events occur as if they were random. Everything in a movie is fake. But how seductive it all is! The world given to us in film is so much thicker than the world that exists outside it. When a film is well done the viewer is transported into someone else's life for two hours, and when it is very well done that bit of life stays with the viewer afterwards. Who wouldn't want to be a hero for a few hours? Or in love? And if that love is richer and more romantic than a real love? Who could say no?

But are movie romances richer and more romantic than real love? The answer, as with many things, is yes and no. In Seven Girlfriends Jesse (Timothy Daly) takes us through six of his previous relationships and we see all the romantic gestures he was able to do, things most of us will not be able to do. A choreographed seduction by music. A "kidnapping" to a beautiful home-made dinner attop desert cliffs. A romantic picnic inside a hot air balloon. And on. Some are managable, some are not, but even the movie admits that keeping up this constant level of romance is impossible; we're seeing ten years of fictional romances condensed into two hours. One can be romantic but this movie level of romance, we are told, is impossible, at least in the long run.

But real life has a romantic substance movies will never be able to attain: real love is real. However much one enjoys a movie romance, however much it stays with a viewer after he or she leaves the theater, it isn't real. If I prepare a simple picnic in the park for a woman, it may not be as romantic as sipping champagne inside a balloon, but it is more significant because it is real.

Why, then, do we love romantic movies so much? Why not simply find someone to be romantic to? Movie romance may set a difficult standard, but real-world romance is easily achievable and there are more than enough men and women out there who say they wish they had more romance in their lives. As long as one avoids being creepy about it, it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to be romantic with.

But remember, movies promise us not just romance but love. Anything else is simply theater. Actually it's worse than theater. A method actor feels what he or she says and does; anything else is just going through the motions. Is it really that hard to fall in love with someone?

This takes us to the last lesson of romantic movies: love is hard. When you finish watching a romantic movie, anything from Casablanca to Fifty First Dates you've watched people spend two hours (and probably more in-character time) dealing with every obstacle the writer could think of to impede their romantic happiness. And they still may not have succeeded. Yet still they persisted, still they tried, and most of all they were loyal to their hearts. That's a message we can all take away.

In Chasing Amy Ben Afleck plays Holden, a comic book artist who makes a mistake just about all of us go through at some point in our lives: falling in love with someone we shouldn't. It doesn't work out, but still he tries. He is loyal to his heart. His flaw as a character is he isn't loyal to the person he loves. But he takes the risk and that's worth a lot. Let us hear what Holden has to say:

I love you. And not, not in a friendly way, although I think we're great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy-dog way, although I'm sure that's what you'll call it. I love you. Very, very simple, very truly. You are the epitome of everything I have ever looked for in another human being. And I know that you think of me as just a friend, and crossing that line is the furthest thing from an option you would ever consider. But I had to say it. I just, I can't take this anymore. I can't stand next to you without wanting to hold you. I can't, I can't look into your eyes without feeling that, that longing you only read about in trashy romance novels. I can't talk to you without wanting to express my love for everything you are. And I know this will probably queer our friendship - no pun intended - but I had to say it, because I've never felt this way before, and I don't care. I like who I am because of it. And if bringing this to light means we can't hang out anymore, then that hurts me. But God, I just, I couldn't allow another day to go by without just getting it out there, regardless of the outcome, which by the look on your face is to be the inevitable shoot-down. And, you know, I'll accept that. But I know... I know that some part of you is hesitating for a moment, and if there is a moment of hesitation, then that means you feel something too. All I ask, please, is that you just, you just not dismiss that - and try to dwell in it for just ten seconds. Alyssa, there isn't another soul on this fucking planet who has ever made me half the person I am when I'm with you, and I would risk this friendship for the chance to take it to the next plateau. Because it is there between you and me. You can't deny that. Even if, you know, even if we never talk again after tonight, please know that I'm forever changed because of who you are and what you've meant to me, which - while I do appreciate it - I'd never need a painting of birds bought at a diner to remind me of.

Holden fails as a lover because he loves too much. He says he will accept "no" but he pressures too much. If he is willing to take a risk then everyone must be willing to take a risk. He is willing to sacrifice anything for his love even if it's not his to sacrifice, including his friendship with Alyssa. He cannot care for her heart or her friendship the way he wants her to care for him. This is the other side of unrequited love, except it is Alyssa's love that is unrequited, not Holden's.

Loreena McKennit often leaves the last word to Shakespeare. I'd like to leave it to Silent Bob.

No, idiot. It was a mistake. I wasn't disgusted with her, I was afraid. At that moment, I felt small - like I'd lacked experience, like I'd never be on her level or never be enough for her or something. And what I didn't get was that she didn't care. She wasn't looking for that guy anymore. She was looking for me, for the Bob. But by the time I realized this, it was too late, you know. She'd moved on, and all I had to show for it was some foolish pride, which then gave way to regret. She was the girl, I know that now. But I pushed her away... So I've spent every day since then chasing Amy...

Movies have many sorts of love to teach us about.