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Friday, February 13, 2009

The movies and marriage

Here’s a question to scratch your head over: what is your favorite movie that portrays love in the context of marriage?

My premise is that most movies that portray “love” are primarily concerned with the pursuit of love – love’s starting point. The overwhelming majority of romantic movies are concerned with “boy meets girl.” Very few movies follow up on “boy marries girl, has three children, etc.” Think about your favorite romantic movies (or for guys, your wife’s favorites). I’ll bet you that the movie ends with 1) a wedding, or the very likely prospect of one, or less often, 2) the death of one or both of the leads. There are probably two main reasons for this. One is the necessity of movie plot mechanics. You need three acts in a typical romantic movie (or any movie). Act One: Boy Meets Girl. Act Two: Complication – Boy and Girl Separated. Act Three: Resolution, happy or otherwise.

Think about your favorites (or your significant others’.) This applies to all of them. I think it’s easier for screenwriters to portray “the pursuit,” or courtship, or “falling in love,” or what have you, in the span of two hours than it is to portray “married love” in the same span, and with the same kind of plot structure. The other reason I think movies primarily deal with courtship is because of a more general societal definition of love. When we think of romantic love, whether we are trying to or not, we usually think of the feelings involved in “falling in love.” Not that there’s anything wrong with falling in love! Falling in love is great! But – what does that say about our definition of love if the popular portrayal of love “ends” with marriage. We see a wedding in a movie and this is movie shorthand for “and they lived happily ever after.” But that feeds into the belief that all love always feels like falling in love.

For more on this idea I recommend with my most heart-felt recommendation “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas. The subtitle of the book is “What if God designed marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy?” A friend of mine suggests that the key to a successful marriage is that it requires both parties to become more mature people. Thomas says in the first chapter, appropriately titled “The Greatest Challenge in the World:”“Romantic love has no elasticity to it. It can never be stretched; it simply shatters. Mature love, the kind demanded of a good marriage, must stretch…Any mature spiritually sensitive view of marriage must be built on the foundation of mature love rather than romanticism. But this immediately casts us into a countercultural pursuit.” I don’t think that it is the fault of movies that our general perception of love is limited to the romantic, “falling in love” sort of love – but I do think movies perpetuate this idea. So, what are some “countercultural” movies? Which ones show a different side of love than the pursuit? I thought of these: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed. Gets me every time…I am always surprised at how many people haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen all of it. You need to see all of it.The Family Man (2000) – A sort of reverse “It’s A Wonderful Life.” In fact, I’m sure that’s how it was pitched to the producers. Still a good movie, though.The Bishop’s Wife(1947) Cary Grant/The Preacher’s Wife – The original, and the 1996 remake with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.The Notebook (2004) – Not my favorite, but I will admit that it portrays married love beautifully – the bulk of the movie, though, is flashbacks to “the pursuit.” The Quiet Man (1952) – A great movie! John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Guys, if you’re patient, you get to see one of the longest fist-fights in movie history. Jerry Maguire (1996)– Maybe you’ve heard of this one.

A lot of these movies are centered around Christmas – interesting.

All of these follow the same three-act structure mentioned above – but in all of these films the major conflict for love comes after the marriage. These movies require their characters to do more than “fall in love.” They are required to stay in love – which is quite a different kettle of fish - a different set of emotions, a different kind of commitment, than the emotions and commitments that come with falling in love.So, back to the original question. What’s your favorite movie that portrays love in the context of marriage?

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