I've been thinking about love a lot lately. Maybe it's the movies I've been watching, or the music I've been listening to, or the relationship-struggles I've faced over the past few months, but the darn L-word keeps popping up. How we all need it. We all search for it. We all lose it. And hopefully we all find it, in one form or another. As far as feelings go, it is truly universal. It drives us. Makes us smile. Dream. Cry.
Many art forms try to convey and express and explore love, but I doubt any of them do it better than movies. Sure, there are plenty of amazing poems out there and a great love song never dies, but movies can capture love's power and knock you out with it.
I watched Richard Linklater's film "Before Sunset" this past weekend and I can't stop thinking about it. It's the sequel to his 1994 film "Before Sunrise," about an American (Ethan Hawke) and a French girl (Julie Delpy), who meet on a train and have one day together before parting ways. I don't remember liking that film very much and I was a bit skeptical of this update, which finds them nine years later in Paris. He is a writer, married with a kid, and she is an environmentalist dating a war photographer. What is special about the film is that it truly captures what it feels like to reunite with someone you have not seen in many years, someone you hoped you would one day see again and perhaps never stopped thinking about. It's a very talkative movie, almost a constant chatter, but its exploration into how those awkward first moments develop into a deeper look at the past and their feelings for the future that feels so truthful and real that it's almost shocking. (And a credit to the actors and director for creating such a sincere piece of work).
I won't tell you much more about it other than it may have one of the most perfect endings to a romantic movie in a long time. The last minute, simple and pure, is brilliant.
It's amazing how little love stories really need to be effective. In the case of "Before Sunset," there is no plot, really, other than: "a man and a woman have a few hours together before he has to catch a plane." What's so special about that? Can you imagine pitching an idea like that to a studio executive? No way. But even the big Hollywood romantic comedies work the same way, bringing two people together, then tearing them apart, then bringing them back together again. We feel their attraction, we agonize over their longing, and we celebrate their reunion. While an action movie may allow us to experience what it feels like to save the world, shoot some bad guys and blow up a building, romantic comedies give us a much more true catharsis. Those are our emotions up on the screen, feelings we all have known before. A look between two strangers, an embrace between two people long apart, a daydream. There are no misty eyes at the end of "True Lies."
Some people blame romantic comedies for giving people false hopes and expectations about relationships. That they simplify emotions, manipulate viewers, and ignore reality. That the world is much tougher than that: "People don't quit their jobs and run through airports to catch their departing lover in real life." "There's no way Harry and Sally would run into each other so many times." Etc. And maybe they are right. Maybe movies are guilty of manipulating people. But there are worse things than getting a few hundred people in a dark theater to feel love. To make their hearts beat a little harder. To remind them of emotions long buried or ignored after years of routine. Or to inspire some to actually quit that job and run through that airport and catch that special someone before they become the one that got away, the one that haunts them for the rest of their lives with dreams of what could have been. Maybe that's what life is all about.