Give Love a Chance: Love as Metaphor & Myth

Warm Bodies
In one corner of the ring / That cherished myth / Falling in love magically solves / Every problem you’ve ever had –Jello Biafra, Mate Spawn & Die

A few weeks back I wrote that Warm Bodies was “fucking stupid” and that The Fifth Wave was “even fucking stupider!” I stand by those statements but, at the same time, I did notice a pronounced “sideways look” from friends and family when I talked about my ire with either film. It is not that I expected everyone to automatically agree with me, but I was surprised by their incredulity. It gave me pause. Were Warm Bodies and The Fifth Wave really that bad? Or was I being unnecessarily crotchety?

In light of Valentine’s Day, I thought I would check my attitude to see if I had unjustly maligned the movies.

It is worth mentioning again, right off the top, that it is not love in movies that raises my hackles. I am no “bro” with an automatic reflex that condemns anything with romance as “chick flick.” Just as important, I am not some hateful crank. There are people, ideas, and things I love, some of which I love very passionately. I recognize, and accept, love for what it is. Love is a powerful emotion. Generally speaking, it is a wonderful thing. At its best, love can help us transform who we are, help us make ourselves better people, and can help save us, even from ourselves.

That in mind, when used properly in a movie love can be moving. It is a point of reference that we share with the characters. It creates a connection with them. Yet, there is an important specification in my list earlier that needs singling out, namely that love CAN HELP us. It’s not a magic unction. It does not happen and all is better. In fact, I’m going to go so far as to espouse that it doesn’t do anything in and of itself. It’s what the person who love affects does that has the real power. It’s the character of the character, and how she/he reacts, that’s the impetus of love.

There’s the hitch. Both Warm Bodies and The Fifth Wave share the metaphorical use I wish Hollywood, and bad writers everywhere, would drop—love itself will fix any and every problem. This use is insidious in that it takes the agency out of the characters. They do not do anything to change their situation. They are puppets, simply strung along. Characters worth investing in are the ones who take the journey and come out the other side changed under their own power. Who cares if they did something because there was no other choice?

In cases like Warm Bodies and The Fifth Wave the use of love is even worse. In them love is an insulting deus ex machina. It is a cheap contrivance to get the hot, young heroines/heroes out of the corner they have been painted into by shitty writers.

Okay. That’s all fine and good, but this raises a question, does every movie have to have absolute-feasibility-in-the-real-world plots and devices? No. Of course not. Insert any number of action/sci fi/fantasy/adventure movie titles here. Most, if not all, have likely had unrealistic aspects to the stories, in the extreme. Yet most of them do not rile me up. Quite often I enjoy them.

Why this dichotomy? Because each person has their threshold for what they are able to suspend their disbelief. Mine cuts off at “the cherished myth” Love. Someone else might cut it off at violence, or space ships, or anything M. Night Shyamalan does. That’s why I called for a labeling system to warn people, like the explicit lyrics labels on music. Life is too precious to throw away by sitting through garbage movies. And movies like Warm Bodies and The Fifth Wave that use cheap tricks are garbage.

So as I wind up my screed another question comes to mind: does all this mean that these films, which both, admittedly, are squarely aimed at a young, unsophisticated audience, worth the fervor and raised blood pressure? Eh. Probably not.

This raises the penultimate question, what should I do? Stop watching all movies with love and romance? No. Of course not. There are plenty of romantically themed films that are fantastic that don’t abuse love. Three that jump immediately to mind, because of my great fondness for them, are: The Princess Bride, Better Off Dead, and Shaun of the Dead. If I swore off films with romance I would have missed those, and that would be a shame.

So, again, what do I do? Honestly, I don’t know. In all likelihood I’ll continue to get pissed and bitch about it on the internet. At which point, the stoic in me will sigh, drop his head disapprovingly, and say, “That is why you fail.”

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