Deconstructing Love: Through Cinema (mostly two movies)
You have heard of it before- Boy meets girl, or the other way round. They meet, fall in love, fall out, and get back together. The end. At least, that is what the movies show us, most of the time. Romance is shown to be predictable and following a certain pattern in film, but does that happen in real life too? Not entirely. Are some of us picky about it? Yes. Do we like to share our opinions about them on social media out loud? Most of you do, and you are annoying for it. Instead, you should try and get paid like me! But, that’s just my opinion. The rest of this piece is going to be an extension of my opinion too. Because, as of writing this, it is 14th February, and I am single, and that buys me enough time to ramble here.
Movies provide escapism- a short-lived vacation from the mundanity of life. Romantic movies, on the other hand, tingles with the masses’ perception of what they are feeling, what they might be feeling and what they will be feeling. This statement is not to put the creators in a bad light but rather to show the effects the visual medium tends to have on us. Sounds boring so far? Go on a date. Oops!
Love is subjective, and so is art. Through the help of my peers on The Interlude, I have shortlisted two movies through which I will address the many interesting parallels of a romantic relationship. They are Amélie, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and 500 Days of Summer, directed by Marc Webb.
Before we dive into it, I would like to quickly explain the plot of each movie. Amélie follows the titular character, who is an introvert living in 90s Paris. She navigates her life, going out of her way to help the people around her, eventually finding love. On the other hand, 500 Days follows Tom Hansen, a hopeless romantic, after being dumped by his girlfriend, Summer. He thought of her to be his soulmate, and we observe with him pondering as to what went wrong.
My description of the latter already sounds condescending, doesn’t it? You have good reason to believe so. If we are to try and find similarities, both films have protagonists looking for love. Amélie is a kind, lonely individual with a sense of humour, deprived of love and affection from such a young age. She was homeschooled by her parents after misdiagnosing her to have a heart defect. Whereas, Tom Hansen is shown as a training architect working in a greeting card company, looking for a spark in his life- may be in the form of love? He has a supportive enough friend circle and a pre-teen sister who doesn’t shy away from calling him out.
The two movies are drastically different from a filmmaking standpoint. Amélie focuses on the fantastical elements of love- chance, destiny, exciting, quirky visuals. It was a risky project since it had a male voice constantly narrating from beginning to end. Surprisingly, it works in favour of the story itself without overwhelming the listener. 500 Days of Summer uses a more post-modern approach, with nonlinear storytelling, fourth wall breaks, and a random dance number, giving it a feel of a colourful journal entry. The storylines have rather divergent paths. Simply put, the former shows the protagonist finding love, and the latter shows how the other loses it. Well, he never had much of it in the first place.
Both films are driven by a well-written screenplay and an even better form of storytelling. 500 Days has a non-chronological pattern of the character’s life, jumping back and forth between the good parts of his relationship and the bad. It lets the viewer understand the world better and in-depth, which would not have happened if everything followed the classic three-act structure. Just like Tom, we end up thinking of Summer as this manic-pixie dream girl. But, the matter of fact is, we are being deceived by not seeing Summer’s point of view. To us, and to the main character, the girl is not a person but an idea of all things great about love. She is a concept, a painting on the wall that doesn’t seem to have a mind of her own. She exists only to enhance and exaggerate the inner problems of our character- he breaks out in a dance number as soon as he gets the notion of his feelings being reciprocated. This constant, self-mythologizing forms the crux of his psyche. No wonder it was one of the most misunderstood movies of the 2000s.
This is why, during the film, when she expresses her reservations about true love, it seems so alien to us. We think that the girl is not right for the guy. While the truth is the complete opposite. We end up seeing a one-sided, selfish perspective of a young man who imposes his illusion on a girl who does not share the same feelings. It only feels shocking because we do not see the girls’ perspective. And the irony of her name being in the title makes it depressingly hilarious! It’s not about a girl named Summer; it’s about a guy’s idea of her. It is safe to say that Tom wants love to be the “be all, end all” thing in his life.
Coming back to Amélie, we see a person with hardly a selfish bone in her body. Maybe her motivation to help people is driven by the need to be loved. But the need never seems to overtake her tendency to help people out. Her acts of kindness might throw people off, but our main character is flawed. She is socially anxious, which is celebrated nowadays more than taken care of. Thank you, Internet! Throughout the film, we hope for the character to get whatever makes her happy. She is already seen to be happy in the little pleasures of life.
When Nino, the equally if not more awkward guy, stumbles into her life, it just becomes a more fantasy-fueled cat-and-mouse chase that results in a spectrum of all feelings positive. The love interest complements her existence, not overrides it. Their exchanges, albeit indirect, are endearing and never cringe-inducing. Even the flaws work out in her favour-we have a young woman with a hyperactive imagination to the point she dismisses reality every now and then. However, she does it to be resiliently aware of the people in life who need some help in order to make it slightly better.
Overall, through their contrasting lenses, we are able to see the various aspects of love- good and bad. Should we become optimistic or pessimistic towards romance just because we spent two hours looking at the screen, making us feel a certain type of way? No. Are you going to be a jerk to your friends tomorrow because you watched American Psycho? Get a life. Art is subjective. It is just imagination used to show some reality in an interesting light.
What’s the point of me going on about all this? Is love worth it? Yes, only if it is not the prime focus of your existence. If you manage to become comfortable with yourself first, then love can follow suit.