Compared to love, defining romance is tricky, a bit like being caught in quicksand. The more you thrash around in the various definitions, the more stuck you get. The World English Dictionary appears to limit romance to the world of fiction –
“1. A story, novel, film, etc, dealing with love, usually in an idealized or sentimental way,
2. Baseless, made up story with a lot of historical references.”
Hmm, romance sounds like the embarrassing cousin to love. Thanks to a helpful friend, I’ll define romance as the ‘subjective expression of love’. Perhaps romance is to do more with our own expectations.
Love fares better in the World English Dictionary –
“1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person,
2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child or friend,
3. sexual passion or desire.”
That’s why I’ve changed my title to:
LOVE + CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT = SATISFACTION
For me, stories with the right mix of love and realistic, likeable, flawed characters warm the cockles of my heart. Throw in a dash of humour and I want to buy the book or DVD because it’s suddenly worth rewatching. Why are these stories satisfying?
Firstly, a great story takes us on an emotional journey we wouldn’t normally have, the exciting version we’re not going to get. Not me, anyway.
Also, as characters develop, overcome obstacles and resolve their conflicts, we sometimes see a part of ourselves. We begin to identify with them, care about them and what happens to them.
Anne Lamott crystallised something for me, “Truth seems to want expression.” (Anne is the author of Bird by Bird, a book about writing, and as liberating for me as first watching Absolutely Fabulous).
This is why we, the audience, love comparing our version of the truth to others. Anne continues, “When you open the closet door (of truth), you can get liberation, even joy.” We all want the reassurance, even relief, of seeing other people’s humanity. A last pearl of wisdom from Anne reminds us that great stories decrease our sense of isolation. “They feed our soul, buoyancy is restored.” We humans do seem to need to check each other out, as stated in my last blog.
But why love? We don’t all enjoy vampire stories, chocolate, champagne, little children, Paris in the springtime, being scared out of our wits or cute, fluffy puppies (don’t you want to pick it up?)
However, love is a common thread we all share. Falling in love feels so good, it’s a pleasurable emotional state. It’s even fun watching other people fall in and out of love. Everyone wants to be liked and loved (except psychopaths, I guess). Love overcomes boundaries, love gives us wings. I think in its pure form, enduring love transcends the self, the ego. This selflessness is not exploited if both parties are in accord (potential conflict which lends itself to a good story). So why wouldn’t great love stories be popular? I much preferred writing the scenes involving sexual tension in Arafura to the psychopathic sub-plot.
But why do women appear to enjoy stories with love themes more than men?
Is it cultural, biological, a mix of both?
Do these female preferences simply boil down to the sexual psychology of men and women? Are women really more interested in quality than quantity of men because of the egg to sperm ratio? Are women really the victims of their evolutionary hardwiring about choosing a strong, protective male proto-type who’ll hang around and make healthy babies?
Or do love stories of deep physical and emotional intimacy offer a welcome retreat from the reality of most women? How culturally universal is it for women to enjoy love stories more than men? What about cultures where men are demonstrative, open about their feelings and emotions? Do they watch or read more love stories?
And why have so many men directed the successful movies below, written songs for them or the stories themselves?
Too many questions. As usual, life isn’t that black and white, nor are the characters in a good story.
A few of my favourite love stories/films:
1) Taming of The Shrew – Shakespeare Retold series.
This modern day adaptation revolves around an abrasive female politician who meets her match. It’s a delightful battle of wills. This version with its witty, combative dialogue literally makes me laugh, clap my hands, whoop, cringe, wince, squirm and laugh some more. In the beginning you think, this relationship will NEVER work!
The ‘Shrew’ (Shirley Henderson) is the sub-personality we all resist when we’re tired, angry, grumpy, hormonal, or pissed off. Petruchio (Rufus Sewell) is the maniacal, exciting, unpredictable man who has her measure, and more.
A+ for love, character development, humour and body language too.
2) 10 Things I Hate About You – 1999
Yes, it’s the movie version of Taming of the Shrew for teenagers+. Yes, both my daughters LOVE it. Yes, I get sucked in every time they watch it. Kat isn’t really a shrew and Patrick isn’t really a maniac, but he is Heath Ledger.
3) Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen. Movie 1995
(Directed by Ang Lee, BTW)
In short, opposite sisters find love. However, Austen’s elegant, ironic prose and subtle nuances of dialogue give us much more than that. The social, economic, and legal constraints on people at the time, especially women, are incredible in hindsight. But Austen’s insights into human nature and relationships are timeless. I enjoy watching Marianne’s journey from shallow passions to genuine love. Who doesn’t want to be Elinor’s friend as her genuine feelings and common sense anchor her, inhibiting her from experiencing passion?
Here we have enduring love in the form of Colonel Brandon, played by Alan Rickman. Bad boys, although often titillating and attractive, rarely manage enduring love. Colonel Brandon is so dependable and honourable. Mildly boring? Well, I’m sure that’s why he was drawn to Marianne in the first place, the balance of her passion to his sobriety. Besides, with all his wealth and Marianne, how could life be dull? Remember, characters can change!
4) Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
No explanation required here. The 2005 movie is my favourite. I know the purists complain about historical accuracy etc. I think Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightly did a sterling job (love that final scene in the meadow, what have I been saying in previous blogs about less is more??)
Both Darcy and Elizabeth make judgements based on poor first impressions, social standing and insufficient knowledge. Darcy initially comes across as abrupt and haughty in manner. Tsk, tsk. The fun is watching, or reading, how they change as the story unfolds. Nitty gritty, entertaining character development makes you feel like you’re there, eavesdropping.
Austen’s emotional intelligence and witty turn of phrase add spark to what otherwise threatens to be a dreary plot. Her studies of human nature reflect life, highlighting the best and worst in us all. Her baddies aren’t all bad and goodies aren’t all perfect (look at Emma). Both Bingley and Edward are imperfect and therefore human as they disappear from sight, deferring to their sisters’ advice over that of their own hearts. Austen’s characters have depth thus offering more than many two-dimensional characters on our entertainment menus today. Both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility also explore familial relationships with insight. Father-daughter, mother-daughter, sister-sister. Both leading females (Elizabeth and Elinor) are more mature than their mothers, but there is still room for respect and affection in their relationships. Even creepy cousin Mr Collins, who gets his due measure from Elizabeth, finds a pragmatic mutual affection with Charlotte.
Why else might these love stories be timeless, I ask my teenage daughter? She pauses. “Every woman can relate to thinking they’re nothing special, then being swept off their feet by powerful men. Elinor and Lizzie’s class is their flaw. Who doesn’t want to be loved despite their flaws?” This actually applies to both sexes.
Interestingly, no one has six pack abs or shows much skin, but we’re still riveted.
5) The Sound of Music – 1965
People make jokes about this movie, I think it’s just Tall Poppins Syndrome. Yes, it went on too long, OK, there were saccharin moments. Love is not the single, central theme. But main characters develop together as they overcome obstacles, so I’m including it. Well, how do you solve a problem like Maria? If there were more Maria’s in the world, there’d be less curtains. Seriously, less wars. I love the way she wears her generous heart on her sleeve. Don’t forget, Bridget Jones is loved for her refreshing transparency too. The problem was obviously with those who denied love. The emotionally repressed Captain Vonn Trapp who dilly dallied with the disingenuous Baroness, and rotten Rolfe who abandoned the light for his evil cause and silly whistle.
6) Casino Royale – Ian Fleming – Movie 2006
This movie deserves a mention. Even 007 can have character development, and begin to start to play with the idea of love as opposed to brief sex. Go on, admit that Daniel Craig grew on you as his character became vulnerable enough to fall in love, as opposed to sexual encounters with doomed but beautiful women. Well, Vesper was still doomed, but obviously the show must go on. The cringe-worthy sexist dialogue is gone, the improbable stunts forgiven as we waited breathlessly in new Bond territory.
I realise none of these are recent love stories. Any thoughts, recommendations?