Love on 35mm

Cinema to the Max
Don't trust what you see.
Don't trust what you see. // Creative Commons

Valentine’s Day is the loneliest day of the year for no real reason. Most of us are going to spend it without a significant other, and that’s fine, but we still won’t be able to make it 10 steps outside before spotting at least half a dozen couples holding hands — couples we conveniently never see except on February 14th.

Because even if we don’t admit it, nobody really wants to be alone tonight. We’d much rather be at some restaurant with some beautiful face, cuddling beneath the sheets or something else to that effect. Spending the evening inside with your buddies is a lot of fun, but it’s far removed from the storybook romance most of us wish we could have. In fact, the sad reality is that fantastic tales of love are better left for the movies.

It’s not like the cinema is the end all be all of vivid romances brought to life. But it is pretty good at it. A shot of eyes here. A shot of lips there. A close-up of two lovers kissing as music swells in the background. A dreamy, languid editing pace that sweeps you away or a frenetic chaos that substitutes cleverness for droll depictions of affection. Basically, it’s hard to do love wrong with the powers of cutting and camera angles behind you, which is why so many of the greatest films are enamored with the topic.

Hollywood mined this material throughout the 30s and 40s — between Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Clark Gable and, well, anybody — and man, was Hollywood successful. The popular rom-coms of the last few decades have followed this model. A guy meets a girl. They fall in love despite themselves. And at the end of the day, they find a way to make it work. The book is closed. The story is over. Love is here to stay, and we walk out the theaters, smiling and satisfied.

These are the kinds of movies we turn to on Valentine’s Day to help us get over how lonely we actually are. We take solace in their storybook romances and get caught up in the fantasies that, if just for a lucky break here and there, could all be ours. But as many people can attest, if you’re gonna fall in love with a dream, be prepared to wake up.

A few months ago, I fell in love with somebody, and it was a wonderful whirlwind while it lasted. But just as I was getting truly caught up, the whole thing was over, and I didn’t know what to do with myself except wallow and be generally pathetic until such time as I could eventually get over it. A couple weeks ago, I leapt at the chance to catch a drink with this girl — if only to find out why things had dissolved the way they had so many months ago. Turns out, I had led myself to believe in a cinematic fantasy. To her, this was just something to pass the time.

I learned, among other things, that you should never invest yourself in the kinds of visions you see on the screen — visions in which every love affair inevitably works out. It’s just not worth it. Stories, after all, are attempts to make rational and plain what is incredibly irrational. They are artistic diversions, and when confronted by a romance that, for all intents and purposes, should never come to fruition, we have to remember that they are potentially as superficial and flammable as the 35mm film stock on which they are printed.

Instead, we should invest in what these movies can teach us about ourselves. “Don Jon” and “Her” are two recent examples. Here, the major points are simple: only bother with someone who will accept you for you. And you can find similarly positive messages across any movie, starring any actor, made in any decade.

Be a good person; Open yourself to new experiences; Never let something go that you care passionately about; Put in the time and effort to make the relationship work, but never get carried away. These are lessons I can get behind. These are the counterpoints to those storybook situations we find in the otherwise crazy, anarchic arena of romantic love.

So this Valentine’s Day, if you’re lonely, remember that you are indeed not actually alone. Pick up a book, cook a meal, see some friends, go to the movies. Find a way to divert yourself, then wake up February 15th ready to jump back on that horse. The best films wouldn’t have it any other way.

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