Did you ever, when you were growing up, identify very strongly with a character or a sentiment in a book? Did you ever want to be Elizabeth Bennett, and fall in love with your Mr. Darcy? Or is the falling in love bit just for girls? I have often wondered if boys sit around dreaming of meaningful love. As I am not a boy, and my boy is sort of unusual, it may take me a while to hash out this particular piece of philosophy. If they do, then what I have to say will be interesting to them as well. If not, ah well. I think girls/women can relate.
One of the magical things about books (or movies, or music, or art) is how the individual work of art remains intrinsically static and unchanging, but our perception of it alters with time. Many authors of greater intellectual worth than I have commented on such a trend, but I always feel like their interpretations fall short of actually experiencing such a moment. For all the new sensations of the moment, there is still the memory of past emotions. The two converge in a strange mutation of realities to produce a feeling that is singular and powerful.
Today, I was watching Moulin Rouge. Regardless of your feelings about the movie, personally, I have always loved it. And it is a perfect example of the kind of mixed memory I am trying to convey in a grander sense. When I first watched it, I was almost a freshman in college, just about to leave home for something more exciting, and I was in the throes of transition. All kinds of transitions. I had been dating a boy for almost a year -- all through my senior year of high school. And I was just starting to realize that I was unhappy in the relationship, and that I wanted out. Horribly, at the same time, I was starting to think more and more about another young man I had been spending time with in, I convinced myself, a strictly platonic way. I shall not go into more dirty details on the relationships or what happened (it is in the past, and for once shall stay there), but as I sat down to watch this movie for the first time, I was in a state of barely contained emotional turmoil. Battles raged in my soul, and in my 18-year-old mind I was the pinnacle of tortured love and suffering. This movie was not a good choice. I felt stifled, trapped, and hopeless in my current relationship. And then I watched a movie about a couple madly in love who have to hide and skulk until they decide that it's worth risking everything to be open and free about their love and their relationship. Oh yes, and then she dies. Terribly tragically. I sat there implacably transfixed, absorbing more than just the spectacle and sounds of the film. I was Satine, I was unable to be with the man I loved, and my other relationship was nothing more than a sham. I longed for Christian, in all his inexhaustible affection and passion. I was a drama queen. But trust me, it wasn't as bad as when I read Wuthering Heights. Or Romeo and Juliet for the first time. Or Pride and Prejudice. Or the dozens of other books which prominently featured a famous romance.
I watched Moulin Rouge again today, and again I felt those pangs of unrequited love from my late teens, the insistence of my heart to break free from its cruel shackles (okay, so I'm still a little dramatic), but I also felt something different. I felt satisfied. I saw Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman stare dreamily into each other's eyes, and I didn't long for their chemistry, I saw my own and my boyfriend's reflected. I finally felt like a grown-up. To me, being a grown-up doesn't mean having a car and a job and a checkbook and responsibilities. Yes, that's part of it. Yes, in today's society, that's what's typically accepted as being "grown up". But what about happiness? It is still a yardstick of success, and I know quite a few so-called "adults" who lack the one thing that truly matters in life. I may have stresses, I may have worries, but I have love, I have basic security, and I have happiness. I am a grown-up. And the more I read (or reread) these love stories, the more I know that my original assumption is correct. I have come to a good place in my life.
It's interesting, too, how your reactions change. When I first read Wuthering Heights, I thought the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff was a tad disturbing (okay, very disturbing), but genuine and ultimately based in love. Now I'm just creeped out. I mean, he digs her up and is on the verge of plucking her out of her coffin so he can die in her arms when, all of a sudden, he hears her voice on the wind and decides to leave her planted in the ground. And he goes on to live a tormented, mean life and makes existence miserable for everyone around him. Likewise, the first time I read Romeo and Juliet, I thought it was sweet and ideal and so tragic and sad. Now, I want to slap all concerned in the face. I want to shout at them, "Where are your basic communication skills??" I have become more practical. And maybe for that reason, Elizabeth Bennett remains one of my favorite romantic heroines. She is intelligent, reasonably logically-minded, and pragmatic. But not so pragmatic she marries simply out of convenience. No, she marries for love, and she marries who she wants. But also, she marries the man she knows will be a good match and will make her happy for years to come. Maybe this is why the second time I read Twilight I got so fed up I almost threw the book across the room. (The first time reading it, it's like you're under the influence of a powerful drug. You're excited, you think it's wonderful, and you're caught up in the romance. The second time, the drug is out of your system and you can see clearly. The characters are shallow, the writing poor, the romance thin and contrived. You are disgusted with yourself and vow only to pick it up again for a good, hearty laugh.) How can Bella and Edward be happy for the rest of eternity? They're not good characters -- what are they going to do that whole time? Thank god the apocalypse is right around the corner. Or so Supernatural tells me.
And so, my final thought for the day is: I have left the effervescent and apocryphal charms of Mr. Wickham, and have found my Mr. Darcy. And I am better off because of it.
However, I never bothered to look for my Edward Cullen. Because he's abusive and psychopathic. Think about it.