Through a Lens Darkly
Cinematic Refuge for the Valentine-Averse
Well, here we go again.
After a year of relative safety, we have arrived once more at Valentine's Day, that most awkward of holidays, straddling the line twixt Twitterpation and Crass Consumerism. The day crabby old-timers love to hate; the day unromantic types hate because they are expected to love it so much; and the one shining day to which true romantics look forward for most of the other 364.
A quick look at multiplexes 'round the country reveals an obvious candidate for the Valentine's Day Crowd: Nicholas Sparks' latest "Romancetrophe," The Vow. Far be it from me to begrudge it the smitten crowds to which it is so clearly targeted; I remember those days of young love well, and cherished every moment of them. Yet, six sons into the adventure, I find such fare a great deal less appealing—not because they deal with something untrue or even unimportant—but because they deal with it on such a superficial level; it's the stuff of beginners. And besides, schmaltzfests like The Vow fail to live up to my inflexible ideals.
Instead, I offer this list of cinematic alternatives to the formulaic set-pieces this day offers, for those who no longer count ourselves among the Implacably Twitterpated:
Random Harvest: That this film features an almost-impossibly charming Ronald Coleman and a luminous Greer Garson would be reason enough to recommend it. And good thing, too, because that's about as much as I can say about the film, lest I spoil its effect on the first-time viewer. One of Hollywood's truest classics, it tells the story of Smithy (Coleman), a happily married World War I vet whose mysterious past comes rushing darkly back to threaten his happiness. A fantastic performance from Garson (playing Smithy's beloved wife, Paula) anchors the film, and its unexpected twists and turns will leave many a hardened cynic with a serious case of the warm-fuzzies. I cannot recommend it highly enough; I only wish I could be watching it for the first time—again.
Away from Her: "All good things must come to an end," and marriage is no exception to that heartless rule. But what happens when that dissolution is not precipitated by Death? Such is the situation in Sarah Polley's sweetly melancholic directorial debut, where a couple struggles with the onset of Alzheimer's and the unavoidable damage the disease is inflicting on their marriage. Grant (Gordon Pinsent) struggles to confront the fact that his wife, Fiona (Julie Christie)—moved to a medical facility in their fight to contain the debilitating effects of her disease—grows more and more distant, even to the point of forgetting her relationship with her husband altogether. Grant's struggles grow more pointed as Fiona, believing herself husband-less, is attracted to another of the nursing home's attendees. Eventually, Grant must confront for the last time the struggle that faces every married couple: the submission of one's own wants and desires for the good of one's spouse.
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.