Why do we love movie romances so much, and why do we desire for the love stories in movies to happen to us? Really, why do all of us want to be in love like the movies?
“But in the movies they’re not in love at all…”
We can never be in love like the movies, (I apologize if this is insultingly obvious) because movies, even the most realistic, can never come close to real life. They may sometimes seem realistic but “real life is more than just two hours long” as the Avett brothers politely put it.
But why are we so attracted to the love-lives of the silver screen? I think the answer lies somewhere in the fact that several qualities of a good romance do in fact reflect deeply natural human desires. These qualities I believe are the extraordinary, the conflict, the resolution, and the perfect. And these qualities paradoxically make me certain that we can’t be in love exactly like the movies, but we can be in a love-romance better than the movies. Don’t believe me?
Twilight. Extraordinarily spicy – in the sense that he’s a vampire who falls in love with a human, which is definitely out of the ordinary. Besides the fact that it is dripping with the anticipation of sex, a story that involves a spectacularly other-worldly or uncommon romance makes it grade A material for a blockbuster hit. Think about it: Shrek, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Spider-man, Tangled, Mirror Mirror, just to name the first few that came to mind. Each of these movies involves a normal person who falls in love with an abnormal “person” (or the other way around).
A great deal of each of these movies consists in the ordinary main character being swept up in an extraordinary situation. A guy falls in love with a mermaid, a guy falls in love with a princess with magic hair, a girl falls in love with a magically-beastly man despite his outward appearance, a guy with the weight of superhero abilities falls in love with a girl.
And this desire for love and romance of an extraordinary kind, a kind that transcends the material world we see in front of us, makes sense. We are not just material beings, but our existence and our desires transcend this world and speak of a higher spiritual reality. We desire to be involved with something supernatural because we are not merely natural beings.
Can you imagine the movie Princess Bride without any conflict or fight scenes? Imagine Westley casually meeting Buttercup, falling in love, and getting married, skipping all the kidnappings, dangerous swamps, adventures, over sized rodents, shrieking eels, sword fights, and the nasty Prince Humperdink (best villain name ever). It wouldn’t be a movie worth watching! It is the determination of Westley throughout all this conflict that incarnates his intense love for her, and the conflict is what makes the romance and the movie so enthralling.
The romance is exciting because we are watching the lover’s relentless pursuit of the beloved, while courageously facing obstacles and adversaries head on again and again.
We naturally desire someone to risk their lives and to be self-sacrificing in their love for us. We desire a relentless pursuit, despite all odds. It may be experienced differently by the two genders – girls naturally desire someone to fight for them and men deeply desire someone to fight for – but the need for a worthy struggle is still present.
We desire a happy, clean, nice, and neat ending. For some reason, we expect that the prince will save the princess, good triumphs over evil, order is restored to the world, and everyone gets what they deserve. Post-modernism reacted against this natural desire by purposefully removing happy endings from movies. (For instance movies like Buried or The Grey) In a way, post-modern movies like this accurately convey the stark reality that we will never get a totally happy ending in this world, but to purposefully end a movie in a way that the audience doesn’t expect still acknowledges the audience’s expectation of a good and fulfilling ending.
We desire a love story with a resolution big enough to make us sit back and sigh with final relief, like a road-worn pilgrim finally making it to his destination. We naturally feel that all love stories should end with a smile and a sigh.
This one is harder to prove, but let’s come at it by way of beauty. Beauty is present in a heaping dosage in most movies. Beautiful actors abound, beautiful landscapes roll in and out of view, all to a beautiful soundtrack.
Aquinas defines beauty as having three components “for beauty includes three conditions, integrity or perfection,… due proportion or harmony; and lastly, brightness, or clarity…” (Summa I Q39 Art. 8 Ad 1) (Hat tip to Marc Barnes at Bad Catholic) So perfection and beauty are intimately connected. We compare movies to perfection and beauty. Think of the way we might refer to a romantic encounter as a “movie moment” or “like something out of a movie” to describe the situation as surreal, extraordinarily beautiful, or perfect in some way.
Let’s take your classic Disney fairy tales, for example. The characters often look perfect and beautiful. And we expect that. We don’t want to see zits on Aladdin or bags under Sleeping Beauty’s eyes. In the same way that we desire a level of perfection and beauty in fairy tale movies, we desire a similar type of perfection in our own lives. We naturally work toward higher and higher degrees of perfection, just like athletes and scientists and artists and governments and societies, because we experience desires that don’t seem easily satisfied for very long. You’ve probably never seen a perfect sunset that left you feeling content to never see another sunset ever again. Nor have you ever sat back and said “my life is perfect, I’m finished with it.” In this same way, we naturally desire a level of perfection and beauty in our love lives.
Love BETTER Than the Movies
Some people wrongly hold movies romances up as a model for their real-life romances, probably because we feel deep human desires when we watch movies. However, the good qualities in movies point towards a higher reality that is not easily found in this world. C.S. Lewis would conclude: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)
We can’t be in love like the movies, we can have something better.
Where can we find the type of romance that has all parts we deeply desire – the extraordinary, the conflict, the perfect, and the resolution?
Oh….I don’t know…..what about something like:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. (Jeremiah 1:5) My lover has come down to his garden…I belong to my lover, and my lover belongs to me. (Song of Songs 6:2-3) His left hand is under my head, and his right arm embraces me. (Song of Songs 8:3)
Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) For God so loved the world that he sent his only son, so that whoever believed in him might not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10) God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
For your husband is your Maker; the Lord of hosts is his name, Your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5) Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. (Song of Solomon 1:2) He brought me to the banquet hall and his glance at me signaled love. (Song of Songs 2:4)
And God says to you:
“You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one bead of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride, How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfumes than any spice! Your lips drip honey, my bride, honey and milk are under your tongue; And the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.” (Song of Songs 4:9–11)
With age-old love I have loved you. (Jeremiah 31:25) For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)
Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let the hearer say, “Come.” Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water. (Revelation 22:1)
The Fulfillment of All Desire
The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself (CCC 27) All these movies qualities can be found in the firey love romance God has with his people – He has with YOU.
My boy Aquinas would love to chime in here to say that “All things, by desiring their own perfection, desire God Himself.”(Summa I, Q. 6, Art. 1, ad. 1.) God, who is perfection, is what we seek when we constantly strive towards perfection. Only God can give us this totally fulfilling and concluding resolution to our lives we could imagine. God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Once Upon a Time and the The End.
Jesus is the bride who gave his whole life for us. He loves us so much that he faced conflict to the point of death, willing to go to the grave for us. The most extraordinary man came to earth to give us his extraordinary love. And in The End we will be eternally consumed by His love.
So when you watch a movie and feel a desire for a perfectly extraordinary romance with an exciting conflict and the hope of a totally fulfilling resolution, you’re in luck. We don’t have to come out of a movie theater saying, “Well shucks, back to the real world. Nothing like that will ever happen to me.” No it wont, but you can have BETTER.