By David Myles Robinson
Of the nominees for the 2018 Academy Awards for Best Picture, two involved love stories. The fact that one love story was between two men and the other between a woman and a fish is, at least to me, irrelevant. Love is love is it not?
What got me thinking after watching those two movies was not the overt or the metaphorical social issues, but the difficulties artists in any medium have in describing love—in conveying to the reader or the theater-goer or the audio listener or the person staring at a painting, that they are experiencing a perfect example of love. Think about it. Is there a particular movie, or book, or poem, or song, or painting which, to you, exemplifies pure love?
Is there a Shakespearean sonnet or any one of the millions of love poems written over the centuries which perfectly expresses love between two people? Does comparing one’s feelings to budding flowers or breathtaking sunsets or even the entirety of every beautiful thing on our planet adequately convey what a love is between two people?
Do plays or songs in which one or both lover die in the name of love actually convey a relationship of love? Seriously, is it really an expression of true love to kill oneself because one’s love is unrequited? Or for both to die in a love induced suicide pact? Aren’t those acts of selfishness rather than love? Although it can certainly be argued that there is always an element of selfishness in love.
In one of the movies I referred to above, the director attempted to convey the budding love between the two men by shots of them doing things together—riding bikes, lounging by a lake, reading books, or running up a mountain together, free spirits alone in the outdoors. Much of their dialog felt stiff and not real, which didn’t do much to show me these men were falling in love. The words themselves were strung together into sentences and into paragraphs which contained the author’s meaning, but without being convincing. To me, they sometimes sounded like one of Hemingway’s characters for whom English was not a first language, so that the dialog was very formalized, the way a foreigner would speak trying to be correct and proper. While that manner of speaking was brilliant for what Hemingway was trying to convey, it was silly and unbelievable as between these two speakers of English and did nothing to convince me they were in love.
One scene that drove me a little nuts was after they returned to their hotel from the mountain and burst into their room laughing uproariously. Okay, so they had obviously bonded and were having fun, but I wondered what they were laughing about, or was just the fact that the two were laughing together a sign they had fallen in love? Had they run through the lobby of the hotel and up the stairs and into their room laughing out loud over something shared sometime earlier? I mean, who does that? Sorry if I’m too picky, but all that running around smiling and laughing about something which we, the audience, know nothing of, seems too contrived and told me nothing about what it was that caused these two men to love each other (other than physical attraction).
In the other movie, the one about a love between a mute woman and a fish, the love, whatever love is, actually felt more real to me. We were shown the emotional and physical agony endured by each of the parties and we were able to feel the love grow with each gentle act of kindness and exploration of mutual pain. So, the concept of love in that situation had nothing to do with shared books, or love of the great outdoors, or music, or even any shared experience other than how each had been treated and abused by the world around them. Theirs was a kind of organic love, grown from each one’s personal demons and needs—perhaps a seed of selfishness?
My point is that love is such an elusive concept to define that it can’t help but be an even more difficult concept to portray. I have been in love with my wife, Marcia, for about 45 years now, and had only loved one other woman before that, so either I’m no expert in love because I haven’t been in love very many times, or I’m a great expert in love because I’ve only been in love twice. In either event, even as a writer I don’t feel capable of ever truly capturing a perfect portrayal of love.
I had a strange experience many years ago when Marcia and I were eating at a Peruvian restaurant in Santiago de Chile, on our way to Antarctica. Sometime during the meal, apropos of nothing, I looked at Marcia across the table and suddenly felt an overwhelming rush of euphoric love, something both emotionally and physically overpowering—so much so that I can’t even remember if I said anything. There was a warmth, and a headiness, and a sense of happiness which, to this day, makes me smile. And no, it hasn’t escaped my notice that I had to actually use the word love to help me try to describe the feeling.
In my latest novel, THE PINOCHET PLOT, there is a love story sub-plot in which the principal character, Will, knows intellectually that he loves his best friend, Cheryl, but is afraid to acknowledge it for psychological reasons related to his past. I attempt to portray the love by focusing on their easy friendship and their physical attraction for each other and, as Will begins to learn about and deal with the issues of his past, the relationship is allowed to slowly morph into an acknowledgment of love. I don’t know how well I dealt with it. I can only hope the reader gets a sense of Will and Cheryl’s bond and the mutual understanding and growth which allowed them to step beyond being friends and lovers, and become a couple in love.
I do realize that for many, if not most, people, the flowery poetry and the beautiful metaphors and similes and the Elvira Madigan moments of lovers running through a field of flowers or Dustin Hoffman in the Graduate driving up the California coast like a mad-man to try to stop the wedding of the woman he loves, will be sufficient to convey romantic love. And perhaps that’s how it should be. Love is, after all, a deeply personal, subjective, and, yes, often selfish emotion. I just know that I can read all the romantic poetry and novels, watch all the romantic movies, and listen to country music 24/7, but I’ve come to know and understand that I’ll never be able to adequately convey the depth of emotion I felt that night in Santiago.
David Myles Robinson
As will become readily apparent, my blogs will not just be about my books or even writing in general. They will be about whatever suits my fancy--and yes, I'm sorry, but that may include politics from time to time. We live in an interestingly tempestuous time and as a writer I find it impossible to ignore the worldwide psycho-drama (and, at times, psycho-comedy) being played out before us on a virtual daily basis.