CATHARSIS THROUGH FILM: Why “The Notebook” Is the Only Film That Ever Made Me Cry

I am no one special. Just a common man with common thoughts. I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but in one respect I’ve succeeded as gloriously as anyone who ever lived. I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul and for me that has always been enough.

–Duke (James Garner), “The Notebook”

 I’m a pretty tough cookie when it comes to the movies.  I sit back and analyze the dialogue, deconstruct scenes and then imagine them differently, watch for historical inaccuracies or exaggeration, admire the costuming.  I try to remember the actors’ names, and compare their acting in this film to their performance in previous films.  With all of that going on in my head, I do not cry.  Ever.

 Except once.

 My husband and I were visiting our son in Greenville, South Carolina.  The menfolk had a project to complete—remodeling the bathroom, or painting the kitchen, something like that—and I rented the 1994 chick flick “The Notebook” from the local Blockbuster and settled in to watch the show.  An hour and a half later, my husband popped back into the living room to find me, tears streaming down my cheeks, completely out of control.

 Why, you ask, did this film invade this cranky heart in a way that “Return to Me” and “Sleepless in Seattle” could not?

 Like a funhouse mirror, “The Notebook” stretched and skewed reality, exposing my future in a wiggly, wavy sort of way—forcing me to admit, perhaps for the first time, that those little lapses in memory that we laughingly call “senior moments” are precursors to a Big Forgetting, the beginning of the end.

 Through the years—through raising children and watching them grow, through buying homes and cars and baby strollers—we’ve merged our fortunes, for better or worse.  Together we’ve tested our wings, driving across the country in a Chevy Vega packed to the roofline with tent and frying pans and baked beans, and later flying across the Atlantic to explore the European countryside.

 Now clomping along through our 35th year of marriage, my husband and I joke about the inevitable signs of aging:  the aches and pains, the creaky hip, the misplaced eyeglasses, the forgotten name that’s just on the tip of the tongue.  But someday—and that day will force itself upon us in a flash—there will be the inevitability of a sweet goodbye.  If we’ve lived and loved for sixty years, it will not have been enough.

 Watching Allie and Noah, I was forced to admit that the end of our story, however it comes, is going to be hard.  Not just hard, but unimaginably devastating.  Chances are we won’t die together—instead, one of us will falter first, and the other will try to hold on, but chemotherapy or surgery or defibrillation will prove insufficient.  One will walk alone into eternity, leaving the other with a profound grief.

 Actor Ryan Gosling, who played the role of the young Noah in the film, spoke recently on the Independent Film Channel about how “The Notebook” actually caused one couple to break their engagement.  After watching the lake scene, in which Noah takes Allie for a ride in a rowboat amid a flock of swans and geese, the woman complained, “You wouldn’t build a house for me, would you?!”  The clueless fiancé responded “Well, no—I don’t know how!” “But if you knew how?”  “No, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”  She said, “Yes, it does!”—and sensing only a more ordinary kind of love, not Noah’s ardent, expansive love, she ended the engagement.

 What that young woman didn’t understand, and what made the movie so implausible, is that the young can only imagine a love like that.  Oh, youthful passion brings delights of its own—but it can’t hold a candle to the later love that’s been tempered in the fire of everyday life, of midnight feedings, of cars repaired and jealousies survived, of prayers together on our knees.  I still can’t bear the thought of losing that abundant, well-worn love.

 Pope Paul VI wrote, “Someone should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying.  Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day.  Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now!  There are only so many tomorrows!”

  • Peggy R

    I do cry at movies and I love a good romance, I say for the record. I did not like “The Notebook.” I did not like Noah. I thought he was too avante garde and a “dangerous” type. The film made the “proper” middle class fiance cold and unfeeling, as typical (see Titanic–ugh!). So, why is the avante garde bum who she’s sneaking around with the “one” for her? I get bothered by movies suggesting less accomplished or “lower status” men are better husband choices. Sorry.

    I did like Gina Rowlands and James Garner. I’ve somehow missed the last few minutes every time it’s on cable. I’d see the two die in bed together, but I’d never seen enough to be sure Garner was the elder Noah. I guess he was.

  • Peggy Bowes

    I loved The Notebook! Did you ever read the book by Nicholas Sparks? It was just as good. You might also like The Vow which comes out Feb. 10th and stars Rachel McAdams from The Notebook. It’s about a newlywed couple who is in a car accident. When the wife (McAdams) wakes up, she doesn’t remember her husband but only an earlier part of her life when she was engaged to another man. Her husband has to court her again and try to win her love. Although it sounds somewhat implausible, it really happened to a Christian couple about 10-15 years ago. I was able to screen the film this weekend, and it’s quite good. I cried, but I’m a sap and cry at all those movies. Since it’s sort of similar to The Notebook (but also very different), I thought you might like it.

  • conservativemama

    The end of the The Notebook always makes my 14 year old daughter cry. She loves the idea of a love that strong, that lasted that long.

    I have been happily married for 23 years. And the love grows and it’s been tested in the most difficult of circumstances. But you can’t know that when you’re so young.

    My eldest is 21 and in love for the first time. And I marvel at how she speaks of this young man. She is so mature. Everything she says about him is exactly what you want for your daughter. The love he has for her is what you know your precious child should expect and receive.

  • Amy

    Actually, the movie came out in 2004….

    Yes, one needs a box of tissues or a sleeve when watching The Notebook, and one of my favorites, Steel Magnolias.

  • Mills

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. I have never seen “The Notebook”, however, my husband passed away not quite two years ago. We had been married 43 years, and as you well say, if it had been sixty it would not have been enough. Yes, the going is hard and unimaginably devastating. And I wonder how people cope who have no faith. Thank you for saying what I had never been able to put into words.

  • Kathy Schiffer

    Oh, I’m sorry for your loss! I will pray for comfort for you.
    One of the greatest gifts, as my husband and I have grown older, is that we realize time is fleeting–and we’re determined to love much along the way.

  • Kathy Schiffer

    Thanks for correcting me on the date!
    And one needs a sleeve? Eewwwww!!! :-)

  • Kathy Schiffer

    Peggy, I had never heard of “The Vow” but will put it on my Must-See List. Thanks!