Sunday, October 20, 2013

How Romantic...

My wife and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Chicago, which was mostly enjoyable.  I did learn that day passes for the CTA can only be purchased at certain locations, which meant we did a lot more walking than I had planned to do.  During the day, this was not too much of a burden as the weather was pleasant and even warm for mid-October, but by nightfall the weather had turned colder with sporadic light rain.  I slept well.

The reason, or at least the primary destination, for our trip was yesterday afternoon's performance of Once at the Oriental Theatre. Although there were changes made, the musical is based on the 2006 shoestring-budget indie flick of the same name (and unlike The Lion King, I must say I still prefer the movie to the play).  I could say that I would echo the sentiments in this New York Times review, but I would also add that my bias toward the movie is likely in large part due to its two leads, as irreplaceable as Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca.  It's certainly not your average movie musical (I am glad to report that the audience is not asked to peer into Irgolva's nostrils as she finishes up Summer Nights), but more importantly, it is not your average "romance" movie.

Surely, I do not mean to sound puritanical; Once has plenty of strong language, as it was shot in Ireland, where I believe the government requires even priests to utter at least one f-bomb fortnightly. I do not dislike typical romantic movies because of language, or skin, or even sex; I dislike them because they are moronic, and as such, are not by any means romantic.  I'm glad that I didn't watch such movies as a teenager - not because they would have given me unrealistic expectations, but because they (like most teen-horror films) must portray the average high-school student as a complete idiot.  Of course, in all fairness, 1) adults in such movies are just as foolish, and 2) the average high-school student (or adult) is a complete idiot. 

Yes, characters making unwise decisions have populated human stories since the beginning of recorded literature, but where Macbeth presents a cautionary tale, the average "romantic" movie actively encourages at least temporary insanity.  Sex is to be reserved for the second date, and any ruse in pursuit of a lover is more than acceptable; in fact, the more outlandish the better.  If you find out your boyfriend/girlfriend is the one lying or cheating, don't be so harsh with them as to expect anything more; show how mature you are by accepting as much of their heart as they are wiling to give you.

But, especially as a man, nothing bothers me more than variations on a theme of infidelity in the pursuit of real love.  In Sleepless in Seattle, for example, Annie is so moved by a radio conversation that she leaves her well-mannered fiancé Walter in the dark as she travels across the country to hopefully meet this lonely widower.  In The Notebook, young Allie meets up with former flame Noah for a fling in an abandoned house, though she is engaged to be married to respectable lawyer Lon.  In Sweet Home Alabama, Melanie actually doubles the feat: she leaves her husband Jake in Alabama and starts a new life for herself in New York, but when her new man Andrew in New York proposes, she goes back to Alabama to convince her husband to sign the divorce papers he rejected seven years prior so she can continue without letting her fiancé know she was previously married (and still is).  But, she ends up falling for her husband again, and still continues with the wedding plans until calling it all off during the wedding itself.  Unfaithful to two men at the same time, and yet both are patient enough to wait for her to make up her mind.

Of course, if the man is not understanding, all the better, because this simply justifies the infidelity as rebellion against a controlling, rude man.  In Titanic, Rose takes a trip on an ill-fated luxury liner on the tab of fiancé Cal, and being a free spirit not to be tethered to him, she decides to go drinking and dancing with an artist named Jack.  She later poses nude for Jack wearing a large jewel given to her by Cal.  But unlike the men listed above, Cal gets upset about her secret rendezvous and confronts her, she snaps back:
Rose: I am not a foreman in one of your mills that you can command. I am your fiancée.
Cal: My fian... my fiancée! Yes, you are, and my wife. My wife in practice if not yet by law, so you will honor me. You will honor me the way a wife is required to honor a husband. Because I will not be made a fool, Rose. Is this in any way unclear?
I have noticed that this phenomenon does seem to be partial to the female half of an engagement; men who do the same are typically (and rightfully) portrayed as immature and/or selfish, while a female exploring her options in similar situations is often portrayed in a more positive light, as strong and independent. 

Now I am not suggesting that engagement is legally equivalent to marriage.  Certainly, even very serious couples may at some point decide to call it quits, and obviously this is more easily done before the wedding than after.  There is no legal or even moral judgment on my part toward persons of either gender who decide to end an engagement, but is it too much to ask that one officially end a relationship before starting another?  I'm not sure hedging one's bets really says "I love you" to either party, but this continues to be common in "romantic" movies:  one is the public and respectable man, the other the desired rebel. 

Of course, should the rebel win such a maiden's heart, is he to propose?  If so, I will assume he's not familiar with Macbeth.


  1. I agree with you... mostly. Titanic took place during a period in our history where women had little choice but to marry. The few jobs that were available to them would have left them starving and most likely homeless if they tried to go it alone. Rose was engaged to him because her family was completely out of money. It was on her to marry to make a life, not just for her but also for her mother. Men could legally divorce women for infidelity back then where as women could not. So we can't judge infidelity at that time with the same lens we may judge it today. But overall, romantic comedies are moronic. Their female tropes are what annoy me the most. Most of them portray skinny young women who are capable of eating an enormous amount of fattening food while staying thin. Of course they have to have some sort of flaw which is usually either being ridiculously clumsy or on the verge of dying form cancer. I'm glad most men don't watch these movies and often wonder how most women can stand them.

    1. True, women had fewer opportunities at one point, and this made it hard for a woman to stand up for herself in the past where a married man was unfaithful - even if she could legally divorce, where would she go, and how could she survive? Today women can make such a stand and many don't; they accept all manner of bad behavior that only encourages selfishness and immaturity. The mesaage to guys in these movies is pretty bad, too: your woman doesn't want a nice, successful, and faithful man, she'd rather have the kind of guy that will have a fling with an engaged woman. I do give a little more leniency to "romantic comedies", as the comedy often flows from how stupid the characters are (ahem, Wedding Singer).

    2. just wait until the 50 Shades movie comes out. We're about to embark on a new all time low for unhealthy relationships complete with submissive female bondage. Good grief! The Disney princesses are growing up.

    3. I haven't read 50 Shades, but I read Sleeping Beauty (the version with lots of spanking.) I wouldn't consider it romance. We should be adamant that the public treatment of women doesn't condone violence. My husband complained that the romantic movies I liked would be the ones where the male lead dies, like Untamed Heart.