In each film, Grant's characters come to recognize the profound impact their wives have on their lives—that their spouses really are the "better half" that completes them. These men refuse to give up their marriages without a pitched battle. But perhaps the most intriguing and instructive similarity between these characters is this: It is nearly impossible to imagine their stories being made into films today.
It is not that our current actors are incapable of taking up Grant's sizable mantle; George Clooney stands at the ready. Nor do we lack directors with a knack for producing madcap plots and fast-paced, whip-smart, screwball dialogue. The Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson have proven themselves more than capable of delivering screwball romance.
No, the real problem is that no contemporary studio would want to finance or market a film that grapples with the issue of divorce as starkly as these classics did, or with an overriding bias in favor of marriage and fidelity.
It is not so much that divorce is seen as uninteresting; rather, it's no longer even seen. Our collective consciousness has moved so far past the issue that the likelihood of re-examining the value of marriage or the emotional and spiritual cost of divorce seems unlikely. Perhaps it is a too-hot singe to our relativistic and accepting consciences.
We think of love as temporary, virtuous courtship as hayseed, while we consider successful marriages to be exceptions to the rule. Fighting tooth and nail for the promise to stick things out "through thick and thin, richer and poorer, 'till death do us part?" Now we're just being old-fashioned.
But is it really good for us to have reached a point where battling to preserve one's marriage is perceived as pointless? Is that something we, as a culture, wished to embrace, or did it simply sneak up on us while we were distracted by our prosperity and our progress and our playbills? Perhaps it was hard to absorb the morality plays when the players were entertaining us with their multiple real-life marriages—a reminder that Hollywood not only mirrors society, but shapes it as well.
The sad and dangerous truth is that we increasingly equate love with "eros," habitually confusing the complex, multifaceted reality that lies at the very core of our humanity with a physical, all-consuming passion that burns brightly and gloriously and yet quickly fades. If that's all love is, then why should we be expected to remain standing, and faithful, in the burned-out husk of our once-glorious romances?
But love is so much more than just the emotional highs of early days. To cut ourselves off from its fuller, deeper meaning—from the "agape" that time and experience gradually brings out of the good (yet incomplete) "eros"—means that we will persist in a state of romantic adolescence: always desiring and never finding.
This Valentine's Day, let us challenge ourselves to seek out and embrace the more difficult, the less sensational, the gentler, quieter facets of love. It is time to demand more of ourselves than the emulation of the hastily and incompletely drawn picture of passion that Hollywood has been foisting upon us for decades.