Cinema to the Max: A bittersweet ode to love and insecurity

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We’re creeping towards February’s midway point, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that there’s something off in the air. What it is, exactly, could be anything. But rather than insert a half-ass joke about how it could be New Haven’s smog levels, Yale’s smug levels or last Sunday’s atrocious Coca-Cola Superbowl commercials, I think I’ll just come out and say what it really is: love. That’s right — with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the coupled among us have a reason to smile, while the singles probably just see it as another cold, early morning walk up Prospect Street. But all of us, in some way or fashion, are touched by love (or the lack of it), no matter our age or class or, remarkably enough, our maturity level.

Love and sex have been at the forefront of Yale’s campus discourse since last year’s DKE incident. But this column isn’t about what does or does not constitute sexual abuse, nor is it about proving some grand, elaborate, highly politicized point about hookup culture. Let’s face facts: hookups exist, and they’ll probably always exist from here on out. But sexual abuse isn’t love, and neither is the hookup.

Then what is it?

That’s the point of everything — artists have been trying to figure out love since art’s inception, and it provides (and will always provide) the best fodder for cinema. But that doesn’t mean that we have a universal definition of love by any stretch of the imagination.

The classical filmmakers saw it as a byproduct of the chase: screwball comedies and Fred Astaire musicals developed love through silly situations built on silly premises that led to silly, and fun, endings. Quick wit, sharp dialogue and high trousers with bowties defined love in the ’20s and ’30s, until things got a little darker.

Then came film noir, with the femme fatale and the broken hearts and Humphrey Bogart clutching the fake Maltese falcon, describing it as “the stuff that dreams are made of,” before walking dejectedly away, as only Bogie can.

Then came the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, and the darker and darker films, with Scorsese eventually appearing with his perverted characters clinging to deconstructed and far-from-ideal visions of companionship.

And time kept progressing, and movies became more polarized (half in paradise, half in hell), and now we find ourselves staring down the long stretch of 2012 with a medium’s worth of films telling us all something new, something hopefully unique about an ageless emotion. So if anyone wants to try to piece together any kind of universality from this century of adoration, be my guest.

Prospective EP&E major and “admitted nice guy” David Lilienfeld ’15 in his article last week (aptly described by YDN commenter “phantomllama” as “cringeworthy”) heavily criticized Yale’s hookup-centric culture of love. Well, here’s the thing: he’s not Seth Rogen, she’s not Katherine Heigl and you’re not going to find the love of your life at Toad’s. But Lilienfeld did bring up an interesting point that I don’t think he intended to make: love and insecurity are as intertwined as Daniel Hillard and Euphegenia Doubtfire.

Insecurity is the worst. Ask Woody Allen.

He’s built his entire career on being (not playing) Mr. Insecure. But his is a specific brand of insecurity, one based more on comedy and humor, with “Annie Hall” perhaps his best such expression. In the film, Allen plays lowly Alvy Singer, a comedian-intellectual whose insecurities drive away the love of his life, played by a then-reaching-the-prime-of-her-career Diane Keaton. The film itself is a quirky masterpiece and Allen’s defining cinematic moment.

What Allen doesn’t touch upon (and appropriately so, given the feel of “Hall”) is the dark side of insecurity, that side that doesn’t in the slightest agree with the romantic concept of love we probably all feel is truly right.

This insecurity has its roots in everything. “Red Dragon,” an underrated Brett Ratner film, centers around a serial killer with an intense grandmother-complex. The award-winning “Precious” (the best performance actress Mo’Nique will probably ever give) looks at incest and the crippling insecurities and violence that are manifested as a result. And even “Lawrence of Arabia” (my favorite film and objectively one of the greatest ever made) is a story that essentially boils down to a titular character that undergoes extreme identity-finding because he’s thoroughly uncomfortable in his own skin.

But these examples really don’t say much. In each of them, insecurity plays a role, but it does so differently, just as it factors in some way or another into nearly every film, work of literature, Tiger Woods affair or Larry King marriage (eight and counting!).

Instead, we should consider insecurity the same way we tend to think about our problems: what we’re going through is the worst thing ever and nobody can understand or realize or love us because of this fact.

This way, defining insecurity becomes a little bit easier.

Insecurity is about sending a girl a text message and trying to drag the conversation on as long as you can and then, even if it goes well, not texting her again for a week, or two, or three, because you don’t want to bother her — because she probably has so much on her mind that seeing your name pop up on her phone has to be tantamount to kicking a puppy in the face. (Trust me on this.)

Or perhaps insecurity is about having a dining hall dinner with a girl and asking her if she’s going to see her boyfriend over break, not because you genuinely care if she’s going to but just to find out if she’s still dating that prick, even though you publicly admit that he’s probably not a prick at all. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)

Or perhaps insecurity is about taking a girl on a date to see “The Artist,” then not hanging out with her again for a week for the aforementioned reason, and then when you do see her it’s just a simple brunch that leads absolutely nowhere. But you feel confident and you get ready to invite her to walk over to Libby’s together and share a cheesecake (thinking about “Lady and the Tramp” the whole time) when you hear from a mutual friend that she likes this other dude more than you. So you drop the whole damn thing and avoid her and start singing Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know” silently to yourself in the shower. (Need I go on?)

And while all this is happening, you start hurting from the inability inherent in everything. You feel terrible because you know that there’s nothing hard or difficult about the process, and that all you have to do is pluck up a rudimentary level of courage and make a damn move.

But you can’t.

Your tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth, and your brain shuts off entirely. Yet your heart still keeps beating and racing while your once limitless possibilities start shriveling and disintegrating as you involuntarily fling them into the sun, where they burn down to fixed and definite particles that eventually become the stuff that stars and planets and dreams are made of. (May Bogart have mercy on our souls.)

Then again, maybe insecurity and love aren’t any of these things. And therein lies the beauty of it.

It’s all about the choices we make.

We want Bogart and Bergman to be together at the end of “Casablanca,” but we could never actually accept anything other than Bogie letting her go with Victor. Chow Yun-Fat’s dying declaration to Michelle Yeoh’s character at the end of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” throws relief onto the rest of the film and helps us see the tragedy (and ourselves) in a new light. And don’t get me started on “Titanic.”

The characters in all the greatest romance movies love and love well. They make the conscientious decision to proceed with their passions and throw caution to the wind in the pursuit of that thing which makes them happy, tangible or not. That’s what draws us in; that’s what compels us to keep inching forward day by day.

Because (and this has taken a whole column to get to, with each paragraph more rambling than the next) love and insecurity are both a part of the grand sweep of human emotions that we confront, along with every artist from every generation. How we choose to interact with them, in the end, is meaningless unless we’re working towards an aim of personal happiness.

And as life and cinema teach us, if we do that, everything else will eventually fall into place.

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