Love in the Reel World, by Daniel Bergamini

Films have the ability to influence almost every aspect of our lives. While we know film is not reality, it is, in many ways, a direct representation of reality, as it is directly influenced by raw human emotion. And when a film fan can relate to the feelings a character is experiencing on screen, it can become the Gospel truth. This can lead to real-life relations with a built-in self destruct function.In almost all films which deal with love and relationships, a familiar cycle is repeated. The film begins with a broken man, someone who has been hurt and more importantly, someone who the viewer can relate to. He suffers, and punishes himself, likely by listening to Morrissey on repeat. As the film progresses and the character continues to put himself through hell, he meets the girls of his dreams. After a long struggle, the film usually ends in a romantic embrace between our hero and his new love.This is the reality that filmmakers have sold us for the last century, and there is a problem with it. It is an overly simplified representation of relationships between men and women. It suggests to us that there are only two phases to a relationship.The first phase comes directly after the end of a relationship: you are sad and tormenting yourself. The second phase is simple: find someone new and fall madly in love with her. The second phase is made easy, as it does not matter if the girl is interested right away. If film has taught us anything, the struggle and the journey to this new found love creates the tension needed to keep the man, and the viewers, interested.Countless films show us characters that fall in love for the sake of it: The Graduate, Stolen Kisses, (500) Days of Summer, The Science of Sleep, and Garden State are just a few. While filmmakers are preoccupied showing the journey to the lovers’ embrace, rarely will a film show the aftermath of love at first sight. Will the relationship last? Do these characters get hurt? Do they get married? We do not know, as these films always end as the star-struck lovers embrace.The danger in this repeated formula is what it is symbiotically teaching film fans. It shows that the two needed experiences in a relationship are falling in love and the eventual dumping. The dumping is key, as it lets the film fans experience what his favourite characters experience, pain instead of guilt.The best example of a character who falls in love too easily is also one of the earliest, and that is Francois Truffaut’s alter-ego, Antoine Doinel. With the exception of the first film in the Doinel series, The 400 Blows, Doinel’s twenty year cinematic journey is spent finding true love. Throughout the series, Doinel’s main conquest is Christine Darbon, who after great lengths, and several films, finally returns his love.What makes this series so fascinating is the fact it is based on Truffaut’s own life and personality. As Truffaut is a true film fan, we are able to see Doinel as proof of this theory. As the series progresses, and his life has gone just as he wished, he is still unsatisfied with his happy relationship. He falls in love with another woman, and this is because after struggling so long, for Doinel, the rejection and torment became the enjoyable aspect.Doinel was never looking for someone to be with for the rest of his life, in fact none of the characters shown in most films about relationships are. They are simply looking for someone who they can struggle to get, fall madly in love with and then get dumped, as we saw in Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep. Film critic Nathan Rabin, coined the phrase “manic pixie dream girl” to describe the girls we constantly see in these films. They are bubbly, cute, strange, and love life; a stark contrast to the depressed, brooding male protagonists. They are girls who are easy to fall in love with, but are obviously not searching for a relationship. In fact, in most films they tell the male lead that they are not looking for one.Films about relationships are made by people who love the medium, learned their life lessons from it and are destined to repeat the too-familiar cinematic cycle. These films are made by people who have had similar experiences, who have been dumped, then fall in love again. These directors create female characters that represent the women they would fall in love with.Film fans should beware that, while some in ways archetypal, these are not real women. They are dream girls; fleeting representations of hopes too often dashed. After all, it is only a movie.

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