Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Love and other duds: agency, the chase, and the role of kismet

John Song recently wrote an eloquent and arresting response to my post about Love and Other Drugs. It's worth reading in its entirety, but this section in particular got me thinking:
To Peter, "Love and Other Drugs" was a perfect kind of idealized mirage of what life is-- being a Game-versed, successful skirt-chaser, while ultimately finding "the one" in a lightning-strikes-tree moment of fate.
More importantly, Peter is one of the most analytical and perfection-seeking Type-A people on the face of this planet. The fact that Jake Gyllenhaal was revealed as a perfection-seeking Type A person (why else would you go to med school instead of settling for a job that pays more and is much more glamorous?) that found the perfect spunky girl make him relateable to Peter. Not only was this spunky girl hot, she empowered Jake Gyllenhaal to realize that he was a good guy, someone better than his current circumstances as a (at the time) fledgling drug rep. To Peter, "Love and Other Drugs" was the perfect archetype of the (gender-switched) chick-bait movie: a Type A personality finding empowering, intellectual, and beautiful love. As a Type A person, he could relate to the movie and it was his fantasy.
His insight is that one's enjoyment of a romantic comedy is based on how well it adheres to one's idealization of a romance. In other movies, plot, cinematography, acting, and special effects are equally important as the portrayal of the subject matter. In a romantic comedy, everything but the idea of how love should be fades to the background.  

John's hypothesis is that I loved this movie because it portrays my ideal relationship. And in a sense, he's right. I've always believed that you can't just let things come to you; that it's imperative to you grab what you want before everyone else strips the tree bare. I don't want to say it's a dog-eat-dog world, but I will say inaction and apathy are by far the biggest blunders one can make. Or at least I can make.

In Love and Other Drugs, Jake makes the entire relationship happen. He f*cking does it! He worms his way into pretending to be an intern with a renown doctor, has the balls to introduce himself to Anne on the patient table, then flatters his way into getting her phone number. He literally makes this relationship happen through sheer willpower.

This does not happen in regular romantic comedies. Usually, fate intervenes so that the two people magically meet again in movie-land (see: Notting Hill and Serendipity), or the girl inexplicably falls head-over-heels for a completely average guy (see: She's Out of My League). These movies are cute; they're a lovely jaunt through fantasy. Too bad they're completely unrealistic.

This is what I meant when I said Love and Other Drugs is the archetypal modern romantic comedy. Jake has agency in his life; when he wants something to happen, he makes it happen. Anne is similarly actualized; in the beginning, she sets the terms. When Jake wants more (a relationship), she doesn't immediately capitulate, and instead fights, pouts, and breaks up with him. She makes him work before she shows her true colors. And even the happy ending at the end, like John notes, isn't all that happy. Anne still has Parkinson's. (What's going to happen to the two of them twenty years from now?) But that's why I love it. It's real. Which means I can see a version of this happening to myself.

John's a completely different creature. We've psychoanalyzed each other plenty; he knows I'm a zealous goal-setting, fame-seeking, analytical machine. In college, my modus operandi was bouncing around different suites visiting others; in college, he was most comfortable sitting in his common room, waiting for people to come to him. John's a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. He'll waste four hours on the computer watching sports in order to allow the two beautiful, spontaneous, random interactions to come to him. He's able to live this way, as an island, because of his best quality: his ability to truly see the positive in everything that happens to him. That's why he's such a happy guy, even in situations where other people wouldn't be.

That's also why John's archetypal romantic comedy is the passive, kismet-dotted kind. He has an enduring belief that something good great will happen to him without having to overextend; without having to change. At one point in my life, I think I believed it too, but then I tasted the grass on the other side. Now I can't go back. Overall, it's made me a less happy person -- all those missed opportunities! -- but it's been counterbalanced with more excitement and experience.

So, John, yes. I want to find empowering, intellectual, and beautiful love. I want my successful skirt-chasing (which, really, isn't that successful) to engender -- instead of hinder -- finding "the one." I want to have to invest fully -- emotionally, physically, spiritually -- in order to win her over, instead of bagging myself a trophy wife. I need the chase. Most of all, I don't want love like this to play out in a romantic comedy. I want it to happen in real life.

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