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Just Saw [Insert Movie Title Here]...

...or how my MFA in screenwriting ruined any chance of enjoying a movie like a normal person. If I apply what I've learned to existing films, would it have made a better film?


SPOILER WARNING: Please be advised, I plan to discuss plot points in detail so if you haven't seen the movie and don't want the surprise ruined, stop here.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

How Do We Know They're Supposed to be In Love?

A comment that usually turns up about my scripts is, "How do we know they're supposed to be in love?" Believe me, I've pondered this one a lot, not just for my writing but for my own sanity. We've all had that moment when we're introduced to a couple, scratch our heads and think, "I don't get it." That happens a lot with lovers in my scripts.

I wish I had an answer for this because I don't have a clue why some relationships are meant to be. I've tried creating that magical moment like in West Side Story when Tony and Maria see each other at the gym and everyone around them moves in slow motion while they sing.

I know they're supposed to be in love-- I see all the signs-- but I have a hard time believing they are in love. I have this problem, not just with my scripts, but with a lot of movies I see.

I've tried the opposites attract method. By showing that he loves chocolate and she loves vanilla, that he loves dogs and she loves cats, that he's a slob and she's a neat freak, they were meant for each other.

I've tried the eHarmony philosophy matching bizarre, obscure characteristics. They both like the same punk band from Indiana that released only one album in 1982, or can quote from the same movie from the French New Wave (in French).

All of these devices feel clumsy and contrived. One of the more successful ways I've seen love indicated was in The Music Man. Harold Hill's theme song, "Seventy Six Trombones," and Marion Paroo's theme song, "Goodnight My Someone," both have the same melody. They sing a duet toward the end where their separate songs become one melody.

In reel life, those "love at first sight" moments are destined by the gods as a sign of true love. In real life, those "love at first sight" moments often lead to the discovery that it really wasn't meant to be.

In reel life, the guy calls her at her unlisted home number, sends flowers to her work and serenades her under her bedroom window. In real life, she calls the police and gets a restraining order.

In reel life she leaves her fiance at the altar in favor of her true love and everyone is happy for her. In real life everyone wonders if they should ask for their wedding presents back and how to keep them separate at future parties.

Our society has a lot of codes, cues, signifiers, symbols to tell us what is true love. Rings, flowers, puppies, and heirlooms are examples of how love is indicated in movies. But real life is not as simple as finding a lost, out of print book from her childhood or giving him blank music sheets as a symbol of your emotional support for his chosen future.

What seems to be my current paradigm is that the lovers have the ability to give each other what they need to complete themselves. However, if this were true, I should be in love with my shrink, my car mechanic and the barista at Starbucks.

My guess is that I resist any notion that there are prescribed courses of behavior given certain stimuli. That there are things we're supposed to do given certain situations. Do we search for order in films that's lacking in our own lives?

This is one of those, "How many angels can you fit on the head of a pin," kind of questions. Every answer is right, every answer is wrong. I just have to find a way of expressing it that I can live with... writing about love, that is.

3 Comments:

Anonymous foreign agent said...

My bet is on lust. Do the chemistry first, and then any little aspect of the lovers will be a reason for them to be together, be it differences or similarities.

June 27, 2006 6:00 AM  
Anonymous foreign agent said...

P.S. And then all we need is smell-o-vision with pheromones.

June 27, 2006 6:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What seems to be my current paradigm is that the lovers have the ability to give each other what they need to complete themselves. However, if this were true, I should be in love with my shrink, my car mechanic and the barista at Starbucks."

Ah, but what are your shrink, mechanic and barista getting in return? :-) Money isn't everything.

I think it depends more on *reciprocal* completion, as well as the relationship's power to allow each person to be his or her best, largest self. (I'm talking about the movies, not real life, needless to say.)

In addition, for me the best cinematic love stories always seamlessly involve the lovers in a situation that is much larger than their personal concerns, e.g., "Casablanca," "Notorious," "Titanic." The stakes are always bigger than whether Harry meets Sally (not a bad movie, but no C, N, or T).

It is tremendously difficult to find stories that work as those three do, not to mention our contemporary (and fully justified) cynicism toward love and relationships.

October 11, 2006 11:47 AM  

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