I was browsing the DVD section of a bookstore with a friend the other day. She was looking for a good movie to watch, with two criteria: it had to be something she could watch with her family, and it shouldn’t be about love. Since I like watching movies (a lot) and spend a considerable amount of time pursuing that interest, she asked me if there was anything I could recommend. We later realized, especially through her frustration in trying to find the right film, that the second criterion is very difficult to fulfill. Love is an important component of most movies; even if it’s not an integral part of the plotline, it often becomes one of the factors in the main character’s transformation. I refer, of course, to romantic love—if we were to extend this to love of any kind, there would basically be no film industry to speak of.
Of course there are many notable movies that do not feature romantic love. A great example is “Léon: The Professional” (1994). If anyone would like to see a thirteen-year-old Natalie Portman as an assassin’s protegée, check this film out. Meanwhile, movies like “Inception” (2010) or “Forrest Gump” (1994), which on the surface seem like they feature platonic relationships that assist in the ultimate development of “our” character, actually hinge on the romantic affiliation of the (usually male) protagonist. Love is their driving force.
Now, I don’t know if this preoccupation is a projection of reality or some sort of wish-fulfillment. In some films, it seems to be the former; in others, the latter. But it can be said that most have as their focus an epic love, which can compel those who experience it to do anything. It’s the sort of emotional intensity that many aspire to: “Oh, I wish I could fall in love like that.”
Usually, I don’t favor this cinematic perspective too much. It often seems like unnecessary exaggeration, or at least needless emphasis put on the subject. This goes for lower-quality romantic comedies in particular. There are of course some good-quality movies of this type, and I’m certainly not judging the genre as a whole. However, some give the impression that their only purpose is to use stereotypical clichés to draw a certain (mostly female) demographic to theaters for no good reason. Even though these films are attractive if you have nothing else to do, or no better movie to see, they are not usually viewed in a positive light. “Too much of a fantasy,” or “Love like that doesn’t exist,” are phrases often uttered at the exit. But I recently saw a film that changed my mind.
It’s called “Evening” (2007). It’s got a rock-solid cast comprising Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep, Claire Danes and a surprisingly impressive Hugh Dancy. The director is Hungarian Lajos Koltai, who made the much-acclaimed “Fateless” (2005). Despite these credentials, the movie lacked something for me. I couldn’t really place what it was. It was a movie about life, and its message was, “There are no mistakes.” As long as you know this, you will have no regrets, whether you have followed your heart or not, whether you have fallen in love or not, etc. Which is a nice message.
Thinking back though, I think what bothered me was that it was rather mundane. Maybe this is because I am an idealistic university student, but it seems like we should expect something better from life than what would be possible with the attitude, “You don’t need to aim for, or want, anything; everything will be OK no matter what you do.” We should expect more, even if it means that we may be disappointed. We should be driven by the desire to do more, in at least one area of our lives. Looking back on life shouldn’t be mundane.
That’s when I realized that even though the romantic comedies I mentioned above are of low quality, they shouldn’t be negatively judged for being fantasies. If movies can’t produce fantasies, if they can’t give us the will to do more, what can? Well, not just movies, but fiction. Books and movies and music should be above life, they should aspire to greater things, so that watching or listening to them, so may we. “The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence,” to quote “Midnight In Paris” (2011). I’m not a particularly big fan of Woody Allen, but that was a remarkable film.
As far as romance goes, though, there’s something I don’t quite approve of. That is when unnecessary and irrelevant romantic tension is introduced into a plotline. The best, and most common example of this is those action/adventure movies that you know, from the very first scene, are going to end with the main character not only saving the world, but also getting the girl (or boy). Really? I mean, is this really necessary? Can we not have platonic relationships between the sexes? What if the adventure, whatever it was, was so traumatic that instead of bringing them together, it made them never want to see each other again? I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see just one movie exploring this, please. Action is good, love is great and, yes, omnipresent. But a little variety wouldn’t hurt either.
To disprove my own point, I should note that I’m really looking forward to “Only Lovers Left Alive,” which is coming out soon. It is, I’m afraid to say, about two vampires who have been in love for centuries. I haven’t seen it yet, but it seems to be more a film about the permanence of love, and groundedness, rather than yet another copy of “Twilight.” Maybe it’s not all crazy leaps and mistakes when it comes to love; maybe, indeed, “love is an act of sanity.”