As I’ve recently been documenting, I’ve felt a little assaulted by images of romance, particularly heteronormative romance and chick flicks. It might just be because it’s getting closer to Valentine’s Day, but I’m starting to feel a little down as a single white female in Manhattan.
When even Carrie from Sex and the City is married, I’m failing in the romance department. But I’m not going to get depressed, and I’m not going to settle, and I’m not going to join eHarmony and become one of those gawdawful commercials.
Because, despite what the multiplex wants to tell you, the point of your life does not have to be to find a partner, have two point five kids, and spend the rest of your life making them make up for the fact that you gave up the rest of your life for them. How do I know this? I watch Zooey Deschanel films.
Zooey Deschanel is one of those indie actresses who is a sex icon to any one who has ever read Salinger (RIP) in a coffee shop. But the reason I bring her up for Single People’s Weeks is that, though she got married in September and is an indie sex icon, she doesn’t tend to pick movies that are about falling in love (i.e. not chick flicks.) Sure, she acts as the possible love interest to Will Ferrell’s childlike Buddy in Elf, but if she shows up in a romantic comedy like Failure to Launch, she plays the clown with a bemused smile on her face. “Oh, look where I am,” she says as she falls on her face. Even when she appears in the Sci-Fi channel’s Tin Man miniseries (back when SyFy was Sci-Fi), her “DG” focuses on adventuring rather than romance.
She also opts for movies like Adam Rapp’s Winter Passing, a coming of age story about the estranged twenty-something daughter of two writers. It’s refreshing to see a movie where Daddy issues are front and center and her aborted (and rather dysfunctional) romance with Will Ferrell (again!) takes a back seat.
Some of her admirable work:
Her sense of romance is about possibility, loss, and charming absurdity, as evidenced by this music video for her band She & Him’s “Why Don’t You Let Me Stay Here?”, starring her and her co-star from 500 Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (Yes, that is Tommy from Third Rock from the Sun, but if you haven’t seen his work in Brick, you are missing something very special.)
And then there’s 500 Days of Summer:
500 Days of Summer sets up and then deconstructs the protagonist’s fantasy of romantic love. Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries for 500 days to live a life in summer: a quest romance with himself as the devoted hero, the Orpheus to Summer (Zooey Deschanel)’s Eurydice. From the beginning, Summer refuses to buy into the scenario the film has set up for itself: “You can’t believe in love. It’s a fantasy.” Tom’s idyllic view, based in his generation’s myths, British pop songs and The Graduate, is systematically broken down by the reality of his situation, illustrated by a day counter that jumps back and forth in time, showing the passage of seasons by the growth (and death) of leaves on a tree.
As Tom explains to the people at his workplace, a greeting card company, after Summer, the woman he believes to be his soul mate, has left him because she “didn’t want a boyfriend” and is now engaged to somebody else:
These are lies. We’re liars. Why do people buy these things [greeting cards]? It’s not because of how they feel. It’s because they can’t say how they feel. We’re the service that lets them off the hook. You know what? I say the hell with it. I say, level with America. At least let them speak for themselves. Look…what is this? [picks up a greeting card] This one with all the pretty hearts on it. I think I know where this is going. [opens it and reads] “Happy Valentine’s Day Sweetheart. I love you.” That’s sweet. Ain’t love grand? This is exactly what I’m talking about. What does love even mean? Love. You know? Do you? Anybody? It’s these cards. The movies and the pop songs, they’re to blame for all the lies. And the heartache. Everything. We’re responsible. I’m responsible. I think we do a bad thing here. People should be able to say how they feel, how they really feel. Not some words that some strangers put in their mouths. Words like love. That don’t mean anything. I’m sorry. I quit. There’s enough bullshit in the world without my help.
Labels, Tom explains, are to blame. The archetypes of love that we as a culture create condition us to believe in this idea of “the one,” a concept that is generally held by modern sex columnists as a destructive myth. As Dan Savage, explains:
The One is a lie. Every long term relationship is a myth, and myths are built on lies. What’s beautiful about a long term relationship is that I pretend that my boyfriend is the lie I met, when I first met him, and he does the same favor to me. You become The One because someone is willing to pretend you are.
“The One” and the genre of romance aren’t realistic. We don’t live in only one season. We move in and out. Our comedies become romances, our romances tragedies, then bitter satire. Then we get over it and laugh again.
To quote Zooey, “I think everybody is Tom or Summer at different points in their life. Most people vacillate between them.”
Remember folks, love can end in this:
Happy Single People’s Weeks!