more stars than in the heavens

not in our stars, but in ourselves

The dance that’s a dream of romance


Thanks to Goodbye Again, which I am frankly obsessed with, I’ve been thinking a lot about love in the movies.  I stand by my statement that relatively few movies get it right, but I’ve tried to think about which ones do and which don’t – and which are so charming or lovely or heartbreaking that it doesn’t matter if they do or don’t.

astaire_rogers04.preview (1)

For example, every Fred and Ginger movie is an impossible fantasia on the theme of love.  Even without the dancing and singing, there’s just not a realistic feature of any character or relationship in any Astaire/Rogers film ever (except perhaps Edward Everett Horton, with whom I always relate on a deep personal level).  And it doesn’t matter.  They’re never going to wrestle with the impossibilities of living together – the bills, the groceries, the bizarre personal habits that either charm or grate – because they’re going to be deeply in romance for the rest of their lives.

Annex - Bogart, Humphrey (Casablanca)_10

What about other films commonly considered the Most Romantic – an appellation that implies their dealing in the currency of love?  Films that have inspired and perhaps sustained many a courtship, an affair, a long-distance relationship, a marriage.  What about those?  What about Casablanca (1942)?  It is a favorite of mine, because it is great, but what do we know?  We know that Rick and Ilsa insisted on not asking each other questions – on simply enjoying each other, two transients in an unstable place at a frightening time.  Suppose Laszlo had walked away, and let her go to her beloved Rick.  Stuck together in the desert, or wherever they ended up, what would have happened?  Stuck together for the rest of their lives, blown hither and thither like Paolo and Francesca, could they have avoided resenting each other eventually?


Let’s widen the search, and include other works of art as well.  Every English teacher I ever had managed to drill into my head that Romeo and Juliet is, by Shakespeare’s design, less about true love everlasting and more about a couple of rash, horny teenagers who ruined everything for the sake of an infatuation that probably would have faded out in a month.  And yet, what’s the quickest shorthand for romance?  What’s endlessly quoted and referred to and cited, in the public imagination, as the truest of true loves?  Don’t people get it?  You see someone across a crowded room, sparks fly, and you feel like you’re aflame…for a while.  It doesn’t last.  You either break up, or stay together and get fat and boring and lonely.

I guess I’m cynical.  I have my reasons, but I am indeed cynical.

Where was I going with this?  Oh, I don’t know.  The thing about Goodbye Again that struck me as uncannily accurate is that it presents love as full of suffering.  Paula suffers because of Roger’s selfishness.  Roger suffers because Philip makes Paula feel more gloriously desirable than he knows how to make anyone feel.  Philip suffers because Paula cannot love him as he loves her.  Everyone suffers.  I suffer because he won’t talk to me.  He suffers because I let someone flirt with me.  She suffers because he’d rather see his friends than her.  They suffer because etc., etc., etc.

Prove me wrong, readers.  Tell me that movies haven’t given us all an entirely impossible ideal; tell me that love can and does end with happily-ever-afters from time to time.  It just seems to me that, for every Paul and Joanne, there are fifty Millers.

Oh, well.

P.S. New job brings with it an unholy commute and precious little time for watching movies – but there may be a move coming up in my future, enabling me to be five minutes away from work, rather than an hour and a half, and also enabling me to have evenings for film-watching.  Phew.  I’m sure you don’t want too many posts like this one, ho ho ho.


3 comments on “The dance that’s a dream of romance

  1. Karen
    May 22, 2013

    I’m probably the wrong person to ask because I am cynical. But I am in love, and I do believe that romantic love exists. However, it’s never quite like it is in the movies. I remember thinking at the time that I saw it that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind got it right…but I’d have to see it again to know if I still feel that way nine years later. As you change, the films that speak to you about love and truth may change also. If you believe that you project a bit of yourself into each film you see, it makes sense. I still love Fellini’s 8 1/2 as much as I did when I first saw it, over 20 years ago, when I was still in college. But having lived a bit, I now think I understand parts of it more, and sympathize more with certain characters than I did before.

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your possible move!

    • mcwhirk
      May 22, 2013

      I mean, I believe it exists. I’m in love, and probably always will be (first typed “Weill” – curious), but there’s so much pain involved. I haven’t seen ESOTSM in years, but I do think it’s great, and would probably relate to it much more now than I did when I first saw it way back when.

      It used to be that all the unreal films about love – studio-era productions, one and all – made me think I knew what it was all about. I don’t think I’m the only one. And I was wrong, they were wrong, everything was wrong…but, to steal from and mutate Hemingway, isn’t it pretty to think otherwise.

  2. Karen
    May 22, 2013

    Oh, and this won’t make you feel any better, but another one I think is probably pretty on the mark: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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