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Motifs in cinema 2013: Love and marriage

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“And so they lived happily ever after”.


They don’t make that kind of movies anymore, do they? If want to take your loved one to a movie date, you’re probably better off staying away from any movie that has to do with love, relationships or marriage. Because they’ll probably leave you questioning if becoming a couple is such a good idea in the first place

Judging from what came out in 2013 this view on love isn’t about to change anytime soon. You have to look hard to find a film that still believes in the “one true love” that will last a lifetime. The united theme of most movies about love and marriage these days is that depicture how it breaks down one way or another. The curve of love seems to be as inevitable as the fact that entropy increases over time. Falling in love puts the world into a neat and simple order. But as we progress through time, learning more about ourselves and about the world, children getting into the picture, it starts to get more complicated. Either we give up about the relationship or we give up about ourselves. Regardless which way we go, there’s a price to pay. Pain, confusion and chaos are looming over us.

gatsbyflowersA painful wake-up
In 2013 we were introduced to a couple of movie characters who still nourish a romantic view on love, interestingly enough both men. Gatsby in The Great Gatsby has a firm belief that he’s going to win back Daisy with a shower of flowers and Ellis in Mud refuses to realize that neither he, nor Mud, have met their soul mates. They have to travel a long and painful road before they see things as they are: that they didn’t have a relationship in the first place.

Other movie couples are slightly better off, such as Liberace and his young lover in Behind the Candelabra and the female couple in Blue is the Warmest Colour. While those relationships don’t end well, at least they have a few happy years to enjoy before they start their descent.

Unchallenged on the position as “darkest depicturing of a relationship” was The Broken Circle Breakdown. I cried myself through this film, and what made me saddest wasn’t the cancer disease that the daughter of the couple was fighting. It was what the disease made to them, how it tore them apart at a time in their lives when they needed each other more than ever. It reminded a little of Blue Valentine, but more riveting thanks to the bluegrass score accompanying them as they go deeper and deeper, entering circle after circle in their inferno.
Brighter movies
Wasn’t there any movie at all that painted love in brighter colours? Well, I had to think hard about it but I came up with a few. One is About Time, where admittedly the father-son relationship is more important than the romance. But there is a romantic part as well and being a Richard Curtis movie, it doesn’t let you down.

Then there was Don Jon, not exactly romantic at first sight, being about a pretty miserable, appalling porn addict. But it gets better and it ends up being one of the more optimistic love movies from 2013.There is one that beats it though: Warm Bodies, which once for all proves that zombies can be just as romantic as vampires. How little did we know!

Two great movies about love and marriage that came out in 2013 remain. One of them is Her, but I’m not going to talk about it further in this post. Not because it doesn’t deserve a mentioning; it deals with the topic in a very interesting way and I fell in love with the movie on spot. But I watched it only the other day and so did many other people outside of the US market. In my book Her isn’t a 2013 movie. It’s one that I’ll save for next year’s motif post.

warm-bodiesBefore Midnight
The other movie is, of course, Before Midnight, THE movie about love and marriage of the year, hands down. What can I say that hasn’t been said before? I just feel privileged to be able to follow the ups and downs in Jessie’s and Celine’s relationship, reconnecting with them every nine years. If the conversation in the first movie was mostly flirty, it hit a deeper level in the second as they opened up about their current life situation and what had become of the dreams of their youth. But it’s in this third movie that it starts to get real. Not everyone who watched it appreciated this; I’ve seen some who felt genuinely sad to see them fighting the way they did, longing back for the earlier, more romantic days. I see it differently.  Love is about so much more than just plain romance. Romance serves as a starting point, but it can only hold your attention that long. It’s what happens over all those following years when the novelty has worn off that truly matters. Or as they put it so beautiful in The Deep Blue Sea, which I’ve already quoted in a previous post, but is so good that it deserves to be put out there again:

A lot of rubbish is talked about love. Do you know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s arse or changing their sheets when they’ve wetted themselves – and then let them keep their dignity so you can both go on.”

I imagine that Jessie and Celine could be this for each other in the future. I hope we’ll be able to follow them to that point. But I don’t think we’ll ever leave the theatre after watching a Before-movie in the safe knowledge that they’ll live happily ever after. Those days are irrevocably over.

About Motifs in Cinema
This post is a part in a yearly event called “Motifs in Cinema”, organized by Andrew Kendall at Encore’s World of Film & TV.

Here’s how Andrew has described the idea:

Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across some film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2013 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how various themes emanating from a single idea change when utilised by varying artists.”

Don’t miss out the other posts in this blogathon, which includes thirteen different themes. All the posts are collected in a list over at Andrew’s place.


My first encounter with Gatsby – a story in three acts

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Act 1: A tough decision
Until last week I was still a Gatsby virgin. Somehow it had escaped me for 45 years, a white and embarrassing blind spot in my education. I knew it was considered one of the greatest American classics, but I had only a vague idea about what it was about. Something about rich people in the 1920s. Possibly some parties. That was the level of my knowledge.

When the recent movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby arrived I suddenly needed to make a choice. I knew that I was about to lose my Gatsby virginity. The question was how and where. Did I want our first meeting to take place in a theatre or on a book page?

I kept wrestling with the question for a while. It was a tough call. My previous experience with movie adaptations of beloved novels was that you usually end up preferring the format you first encounter. Somehow it imprints you.

If you watch the movie before reading the book, the images from the movie will pop up in your head as you’re reading the text. And the other way round: if you read the book first, you’ll compare every image in the movie with the ones that you’ve created in your mind, which you’ll regard as the “original”, the film being but a pale copy.

To see or not to see? I just couldn’t make up my mind, so I did what you do in case of doubt: I asked Twitter. Not that it made me any wiser. Twitter rarely does. There was no consensus. Half of the replies urged me to read the book first, half argued for the opposite.

In the end I decided to leave the novel alone until I had seen the movie. The tipping point was that I figured I might bring a somewhat different perspective, since many bloggers probably have read it, if nothing else as mandatory reading in high school. Perhaps my fresh eyes and lack of expectations would turn out to be useful. And if the novel was anywhere near as good as it was claimed to be, it shouldn’t have any issue with coming second.

Act 2: The moviegatsby2
So how shall I best describe my experience with The Great Gatsby movie? I’m fumbling for words, dumbfounded by all the visual, musical and emotional impressions. Here’s what pops up in my mind right now as I’m thinking of it:

Shirts swirling through the air

Snowflakes swirling in the sky

Words and letters swirling over the screen, beautiful lines, read aloud from the book

Dancers swirling over the floor

(That’s a lot of swirling, but this is a movie that swirls.)


So much sadness, despite all the seemingly happy faces on the screen

Leonardo DiCaprio shifting between being shy, awkward and super romantic within a couple of minutes, surrounded by a cascade of flowers

Toby Maguire being adorable

Joel Edgerton being creepy

Carey Mulligan tipping over from sweetness to being plain horrible. God, I hate her! No, not her, the character… Got to keep them apart!

The unmatched loneliness of big scale parties and “friends” that are no more than acquaintances

A yellow car roaring through the night, a pair of glasses watching

Old sport, old sport, old sport, hitting me like a whip. One or two are barely noticed. After the 500rd stroke I’m bleeding.

Music. Oh, the music! Bold and out of control. Leaving me speechless

Was THAT shot from Sunset Boulevard?

The green light on the other side of the bay. Unreachable, untouchable and making me want to cry, as it’s burning a hole into my mind while fading away, leaving nothing but emptiness.  Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t fair. Rich or poor, this is what it is. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Shirts swirling through the air

Act 3: A heart-breaking realization
I took up reading The Great Gatsby the very next morning and it didn’t take many pages before I had reevaluated myself completely as a writer. It sang to me, every sentence like a perfect piece of art, concentrated and full of flavour, like the sauce you get in ridiculously expensive restaurants. You look in disbelief at the tiny spots of it on your plate, as if someone has spilled it out, wondering if this is all there is. And then you taste it and it’s so intense that you immediately realize that you don’t need any more; there’s enough of it to leave you completely satisfied.

How had I ever come up with the idea to enter a writing profession? Who did I think I was? Looking at the quality of my writing compared to the one of Scott Fitzgerald, I was nothing, just someone scribbling mindlessly. At last my eyes had opened to the sad truth, that I was a second rate writer. The realization weighted heavily on my shoulders. Now I knew what a real writer who knew what he was doing could accomplish. So what was the point for me to write at all?

Once again I shared my despair on Twitter and a friend sent me some words of sympathy. For my recovery she recommended me to read some truly bad books. And I think she’s onto something there. Aren’t they a much better source of inspiration for writing than the good ones? Unlike The Great Gatsby, they invite you to think highly of yourself:  “I could do that! I would even make it better!”

And besides, in the end the purpose of writing isn’t necessarily to excel in it. Some of us write just because we…ehm… kind of enjoy it. As much as we hate it from time to time, we can’t be without it. So we keep doing it, even if we’re no Fitzgeraldses.

The beginning of a relationship
In conclusion this isn’t the last I’ll see of Gatsby. Our relationship has barely started. From now on, this will be a book that I’ll return to so I once again can see the performing act of the equivalence of Mozart, words replacing the violins.

For this I thank Baz Luhrmann. God knows how many more years I would have waited to read the book if it wasn’t for the beautiful, sparkling and loving (and actually surprisingly faithful) introduction he made with his movie.

The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, 2013) My rating: 4/5


Some of my colleagues in the Swedish movie blogger network Filmspanarna also watched The Great Gatsby. Here’s what they made of it.

Fiffis filmtajm (Swedish)
Fredrik on film (English)
Fripps filmrevyer (Swedish)
Har du inte sett den? (Swedish)
Jojjenito (Swedish)
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord (Swedish)

Written by Jessica

May 22, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in The Great Gatsby