Sunday, June 06, 2010

Romantic Grandeur

Love conquers all, they say. But there are times when circumstances are not insurmountable. Love remains unattainable. And the pathos gets magnified

There is a certain romantic grandeur about loving and losing. To love madly and then having to relegate an all-consuming passion into the dustbin of modern history — for reasons beyond the lovers’ control.
For purists and diehard romantics, pain remains an integral part of love; and, many times, that pain manifests itself in the form of going it separately, without each other. There are no happy endings, only reconciliations — as you wipe off those tears — that life has to go on, without the significant other.
Isn’t that far more pulling-at-the-heartstrings than dying together (like Romeo and Juliet did)? Somehow, dying together has a semblance of eternity together. Being alive and not being with the love of your life (like Will and Viola in Shakespeare in Love) — knowing you’ll never be with him/her and never find out how good you could have been together — that’s far more like the stuff that makes tissue-boxes move really fast off the shelves. Like Viola says in Shakespeare in Love, “Not the artful postures of love, but love that overthrows life. Unbiddable, ungovernable, like a riot in the heart, and nothing to be done...”
There is a story — probably a legend — about a young man who aspired to become a ghazal singer; he idolised this master composer-singer, famed for his soulful, searing renderings of unattained love (the hallmark of most ghazals).
The young man tracked down the maestro, appeared in his presence and declared himself an acolyte. “I want to learn music from you, great master,” he appealed.
Smiling ever so faintly, the older man asked: “Have you ever been in love?”
“No, never — and I promise I will never let love detract me from my singing,” the young man declared enthusiastically.
“You need to know what love is before you even consider a career such as mine,” the master chided the young man.
The young man got up and left.
A few years passed, and he returned to the master. “I fell in love. You were right, my whole life changed.”
“And then?”
“I got married to this woman.”
“My dear boy,” the master revealed, “You’ll never know what love is really all about until you’ve loved and then lost. Love without the quality of pain is no love — not at least in my books.”
Having said that, he turned his back and left the bewildered young man to grapple with exactly what he had just heard.
In popular culture, no one works the doomed love magic better than the guys in the movie business. Let's pick out four movies that embody all-encompassing yet thwarted love. None of the starring members of the dramatis personae get to take the proverbial short cut: snuffing out life and putting an end to misery. They live. They never stop loving. And unattainable love becomes, and remains, a cornerstone of their lives. 

Casablanca (1942)

The lovers: Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick (Humphrey Bogart)
Rick meets his former lover Ilsa, who he’s never stopped loving, under unusual circumstances: she is now married, and to a man who professes a different World War II allegiance than his own. The political play is dwarfed by Rick’s own feelings towards Ilsa — especially when he realises she hasn’t stopped loving him either. In the end, Rick takes Ilsa by surprise when he tells her she should be with her husband. “Inside of us, we both know you belong, with Victor (Ilsa’s husband). You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going,” he says.
DEFINING MOMENT: This one is celluloid history. As Ilsa is about to leave Rick forever, her eyes well up with tears... Rick puts his hand to her chin and raises her face to meet his own. And says, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

The lovers: Francesca (Meryl Streep) and Robert (Clint Eastwood)
Francesca, the lonely, middle-aged Iowa housewife, falls in love with visiting National Geographic photographer Robert; he reciprocates, and they spend some time together before reality, in the shape of Francescas family, kicks in. She chooses not to leave her life near the bridges of Madison county; Robert respects her decision, and walks away.
Towards the end, Francesca and her husband are driving home from the supermarket in the pelting rain; she notices Robert’s car right next to theirs; he’s leaving town for good. They both exchange looks, even as the rain water frantically criss-cross window panes and everything seems to blur. Francesca starts crying, realising it’s the last time she was seeing the man she’d grown to love so unreasonably.
Her husband wants to know why she is crying. Francesca smiles through her tears and tells him it’s not something he would understand.
He shakes his head, and mutters something about how he will never understand women.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

The lovers: Sarah/Anna (Meryl Streep) and Charles/Mike (Jeremy Irons)
The movie, unlike John Fowles’ book from which it is derived, works in parallel narratives. In the film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman is being filmed. Anna, who plays Sarah, and Mike, who plays Charles, fall in love. Anna is engaged and Mike is married, yet the love story they are acting in changes the course of their personal lives. Reel and real segue and coalesce. The movie they are filming opts for the ‘happy ending’ (there are two endings in Fowles’ book). Real life, however, works out differently for Anna and Mike.
DEFINING MOMENT: Anna runs out of Mike’s house, where they are having a film unit party after completion of shooting, realising that she cannot break up his marriage. Mike tries to stop her — but gives up.

Shakespeare in Love (1998)

The lovers: William (Joseph Fiennes) and Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow)
William, in search of inspiration to write Romeo and Juliet, meets Viola. Will is long separated from his wife, and Viola is about to be married to Lord Wessex at her parents’ bidding. But love blossoms, William achieves his celebrity status with Romeo and Juliet being declared a hit by Queen Elizabeth herself, and Viola gets to change the rules of the game by acting as Juliet at the premiere (at a time when women were not allowed to act). In the end, the lovers have to go their different ways, when the Queen concedes: “Those whom God has joined in marriage, not even I can put asunder.”
DEFINING MOMENT: When the lovers part, Will tells Viola “You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die”, because she will be his muse for all time to come. And Viola gives him the story for his next play, Twelfth Night, which would be about her, his muse. But this one, she adds, would have a happy ending.
“How does it?” Will wants to know.
“I dont know,” she says. “Its a mystery.”

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