Sidestepping the Debate to Look for Truth, Goodness and Beauty
by Jordan Myska Allen, a lover of life and entrepreneur. He acts as a psychological, spiritual, and professional consultant and practices applied integral thinking.
Sometimes witty, sometimes crude, almost always cheesy, usually over the top, and occasionally heartwarming despite some serious flaws. Ten years after its original release, I am loathe to admit that Love Actually has become a Christmas movie favorite—regardless of whether or not it deserves that title.
The Atlantic and Salon published great pieces on some of the problematic themes the movie unintentionally reinforces. As the authors point out in Love Actually is the Least Romantic Film of All Time and Love Actually is the Worst Christmas Movie Ever, the vast majority of the “love” in the movie is purely based on physical attraction. Most of the relationships go from zero to marriage proposals without much conversation, and whenever something goes wrong it appears that most of the relationships are simply doomed to failure.
As a guy who does not much appreciate chick flicks, ahem, romantic comedies, these criticisms are convenient justifications for me come across as a feminist in my denial of the movie’s charm. But alas, they will not save me from the night my girlfriend wants to watch the movie. Not for its deep message but for the snuggles it induces.
[Note that my girlfriend is a deep thinker and a feminist, so I blame the reptilian brain stem. I do not get mad because for every time she wants me to watch Love Actually with her (once) there are about fifteen to twenty times I have convinced her to see a superhero movie—or worse—something with zombies in it].
What does a guy do? Find beauty in the situation. The action was determined, but mindset was not. So I chose to see what positive lessons I might glean from Love Actually, regardless of its cinematic merit.
Sure this has projection written all over it, but positive projection is what the holiday season is for. And it is quite an enjoyable exercise.
1. The Transformative Power of Honesty
Possibly the most charming relationship is Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his stepson, a relationship that flowers as a result of Daniel’s honesty and transparency.
The many relationships that work do so because the characters in love finally fess up to what they really feel and what’s going on in their life. Even the especially creepy situation where Mark confesses his love to his best friend’s new wife, Juliet (Kiera Knightly), resolves because of his confession. We get the hint that he’s finally ready to move on after he let’s the cat out of the bag.
Furthermore, the relationships that fail seem to be a result of dishonesty—if boss Harry was upfront about what was going on with Karen and Mia, he might have been able to stop Mia’s advances before her imagination ran away with her, and dodge the pain of hurting his wife. And if Sarah weren’t so sneaky about the situation with her brother, I believe she and Karl would be shagging on the regular.
And like the movie, let’s drive this lesson home until no one can ignore it. One of my favorite characters is Billy Mack, the washed up rockstar who surprises everyone, including himself, by reaching the top of the charts with a remake that even he thinks is bad. In the end it is this unbarred truth-telling that wins over the hearts of the audiences he plays to.
Mikey, DJ interviewer: How do you think the new record compares to your old classic stuff?
Billy Mack: Oh come on, Mikey, you know as well as I do the record’s crap. [laughs] But wouldn’t it be great if Number One this Christmas wasn’t some smug teenager, but an old ex-heroin addict searching for a comeback at any price?
It doesn’t hurt that self-aware, clever and comical in his delivery of truth, something to remember when in our own Christmas confessions.
2. “It Aint Over til its Over”
“It Aint Over till its Over,” Daniel tells his stepson Sam after his drumming debut. This is generally the lesson from most rom coms, action flicks, and perhaps any movie with a happy ending. Things seem to be over, but the hero manages to succeed against all odds.
Although it is easy to criticize the optimism of these fictional accounts (anyone ever tried to sneak through airport security?), there is a nugget of real-life wisdom. We all know the legend that Edison failed a thousand times before his commercially successful light bulb. That Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were both rejected a dozen times before publishing their first novels, and that Steve Jobs got kicked out of his own company. There is an incredible value in persistence.
The trick is determining what’s worth persisting in. The important thing is not the eventual success of failure of the project, but the experience of life while you do it. If King and Rowling hated writing, they could never have held the perspective “It Aint Over til it’s over.” Failing at something you love is not really failing at all—because you get to spend your life doing the stuff you love to do, being the person you want to be.
We see this idea play out in Love Actually in other relationships as well. The crime writer Jamie begins the movie with a tragic revelation that his girlfriend is sleeping with his brother. It might seem like his life is over until he falls in love with Aurelia as a direct result of this loss. As Rumi says, even a crowd of sorrows might be clearing you out for some new delight. Related ideas: How to Rid Your Life of Drama
3. Everything is Connected
All nine of the disconnected love stories are intertwined. While this is again part of the movie magic, it is also part of real life. Sometimes we call it the small world phenomena, sometimes we call it the butterfly effect, sometimes we call it a globalized economy, and sometimes we call it the Oracle of Bacon.
The point is that no one lives in isolation; everything is connected. Like everyone stuck on one big spiderweb, one change in one character’s life in Love Actually would ripple into all of the lives of all the other characters.
The difficult thing for us is that we do not know for sure how any one change will affect the rest of the system. Nevertheless, becoming aware of how interconnected everything is puts a different spin on the decisions we make, and calls for us to be more conscious of our actions.
In the End
Truth, persistence, and connection. They may not be the classic holiday lessons, and they’re likely not the first things that come to mind when you think of Love Actually (I think of Hugh Grant dancing and calling Margaret Thatcher a saucy minx), but they are worth highlighting in any season.
Love it, hate it, somewhere in between, or sans opinion, with the right attitude you might be able to learn something from Love Actually. Or Die Hard. Or any “holiday” story.