Love on Screen
How has pop-culture and cinema shaped our ways of viewing romance? How have the ways relationships have been presented on film changed over time? Don’t believe everything you see in the movies…
It's a warm summer night and you’re watching the sunset glow orange. The waves crash against the rocky cliffs and you dig your toes into the gritty sand. The crisp wind pricks at your skin but you rest your head on his shoulder, content. He gazes upon you, his heart full, and places a strong arm around your shoulders. You lean in, happy, comfortable, safe, loved.
Does this sound familiar? Romance has had a long reign of featuring in our films. It’s at the heart of poetry, art, and theatre. From Shakespearean comedies, to whimsical courting, to the dramatic love triangle, love on screen romanticises the most mundane activities and leaves us longing for more of this movie magic.
I’m a big watcher of romance, romantic comedies (rom-coms) in particular. I love the fluffiness, the anticipated kiss, the longing looks, the banter, flirting and teasing, the rough bumpy beginnings and accidental meetings. I love to watch characters fall instantly in love, head over heels, and gradually loving each other more and more every day. I like the happy ending and the journey in between. I like the desperate declarations of love and the numerous ways in which characters say ‘I love you’ without using those words.
Love takes many different forms, and romantic love dominates in films, regardless of genre. Relationships nowadays can be so diverse, and the film industry follows social changes, though at a slower pace. Love stories are conveyed and presented in many formats, from dialogue-based to comedic, and even the paranormal.
Women in early romances such as those by Shakespeare and in black and white films are often constricted by gender roles and expectations. The female characters exist mostly as love interests for males with underdeveloped personalities. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare contrasts the two main relationships and finally identifies what we now see as a toxic relationship, and a healthy one. Hero acts the obedient and quiet fiancé, a demonstration of how women were expected to be obedient and submissive in the relationship. When Claudio believes that she has had relations with a man, he calls her a ‘rotten orange’. In this, he means that she is no longer pure and no longer a worthy bride. Claudio is quick to believe that Hero is unfaithful and rash to act, with little proof, at their wedding rather than by confronting Hero alone. The relationship between Hero and Claudio is contrasted by that of Benedict and Beatrice. Beatrice is a strong female character who voices her opinions, as seen in her banter with Benedict. Beatrice defends Hero when she is wrongly accused, and Benedict as a test of his commitment of love and trust for and of Beatrice, he agrees to fight Claudio on her behalf. In this play, when each man is tested, Benedict respects Beatrice’s wishes whereas Claudio’s love is much weaker.
When Harry met Sally is a dialogue-filled 80s film which follows the friendship of the two protagonists over a long period of time. This film portrays a romance in which friendship is a key part. This teaches audiences that love deepens with time, and to take your time to fall in love. Harry is stubborn, having a firm mindset that men can’t be friends with women they are attracted to, which causes Sally to dislike him. The romance features a best friend as the love interest and a relationship that has grown so much from where it began. The movie makes you long for their intimate connection, and for that moment when someone realises that they want to spend the rest of their life with you.
Coming of age films for a young adult audience explore concepts of identity. Love triangles are often a selling point for these movies, such as for Twilight and The Hunger Games, with teenage characters trying to find themselves and where they belong in the world. The way in which love is represented suggests to viewers that they need romance or a partner in their life to give it meaning, and to make them happy. It creates the idea that individuals can’t exist without someone in their life, which isn’t true. But this is reflected in the real world where being single is viewed as odd due to traditional ideas of needing a relationship which leads to marriage. These films suggest that we can chase love and that we can find it in the most unexpected of places. But this also leads to us waiting and hoping for something that might never happen, and gives us unrealistic expectations.
Modern films usually have a strong social message or key theme, hence the importance of representation. Love, Simon is an LGBTQIA movie, based on a book, about a boy who falls for someone anonymous online who faces struggles regarding his identity. It isn’t the first movie ever to feature a non-heterosexual relationship, but it is rare to have a young adult coming of age story in which the gay character is the protagonist. Simon and Blue are given developed personalities that allow them to be more than their sexual orientation. LGBTQIA films portray new forms of love and relationships, which are often underplayed in most other films. These movies can also be a bridge to understanding and empathising the LGBTQIA community and changing the audience’s perspective on love. On the other hand, recent TV shows about love such as Married at First Sight have been critiqued as corrupting the concept of marriage as a special bond between two people. Bachelor in Paradise has also been viewed as a joke, with the bikini-bodies that inhabit it refusing to acknowledge the different kinds of beauty, and revealing the corrupt ways in which people can manipulate each other in the name of love. Films such as Love, Simon show us that while romance on the big screen has come a long way, our popular “reality” TV shows are still lacking in integrity to real love and romance.
While earlier romances teach us that every woman needs a man, such as in Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman, later films have very strong female protagonists. Disney’s films have changed with social trends, from Cinderella living happily ever after with a prince, to Moana who is given no love interest. Throughout TV history, media has taught us that we need to be in a relationship to be happy. There’s this promise that when we find it, it will be perfect and everlasting, but sometimes that’s not just possible. And they seem to encourage the idea of a one true love. But most people date and have multiple relationships before they settle, and sometimes life just happens and that person you chose to love for life can’t be there anymore. Love on screen can be scary, emotional, easy, or complicated, and the genre has come a long way. But throughout romance’s history, I know they’ve always gotten one thing right: it’s worth fighting for.