Film Therapy for Love

‘If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?’ ― Anonymous

My favourite thing is prescribing films as a remedy – for anything. Just two hours of engaging, often viscerally, in someone else’s world can shed light and clarity on our own predicament. This has to be the most enjoyable form of therapy.

Here are the films I prescribe for matters of the heart.

First, beware!

If you’re in your 20s and looking for love:

Avoid Reality Bites
Winona Ryder dates Ben Stiller, but loves her best friend, Ethan Hawke. While grunge may no longer appeal to today’s 20somethings, watching this at an impressionable age left me thinking that the Right Guy would be unreliable, ‘artistic’ and a scrounger. Hmm. That explains a lot.
Smarter alternative: Same actor (sometimes with the same goatee), Ethan Hawke, in the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy.

If you want to have children:

Avoid One Fine Day
George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer play single parents whose over-extended lives are entwined for a day. A generically cute and otherwise forgettable film, I watched this and decided to never have children. I’m actually not being facetious.
Smarter alternative: Sorry, I have no idea. Sound of Music? (At least the kids stop terrorising eventually, right?)

If you believe an unexpected detour from life is revitalising:

Avoid Take This Waltz
Michelle Williams, married to one sweet man and captivated by another, dances with the same theme in different formations: what’s new will become old.
Smarter alternative: Roman Holiday. At least you’ll always have the memories.

The Next One

There is so much in popular culture that propagates The One. (Though Rizzo in Grease says, ‘There ain’t no such thing.’) And if it doesn’t work out, we feel we’re doomed. How redemptive, then, to see that we do get (at least) another shot.

Film therapy for second chances in love:

Bread and Tulips
An Italian housewife thinks her life stretches predictably ahead of her, until she misses a bus ride on a family holiday.

Love is All You Need
A Danish woman, post mastectomy, goes to her daughter’s wedding in Italy and meets Pierce Brosnan. It sounds Mamma Mia-ish, but this explores more layers and troubled emotions, while still pleasing the heart.

A husband wakes up to his own sexuality after his wife passes away. It’s not over till it’s over, folks.

‘Age does not protect you from love. But, love, to some extent, protects you from age.’ ―  Jeanne Moreau

He’s how old?

There’s a long and largely unquestioned tradition of older men and younger women in cinema. See ancient male ‘hero’-type stars who age visibly with each movie while their partners perkily remain 23. Also see any Woody Allen film. And nobody bats an eyelid.

However, if the woman is a lot older, then that is the story. It’s as if life stops in its tracks until this bizarre anomaly is dealt with. So, yes, we have a long way to go, but in the mean time:

Film therapy for women who’ve fallen for a significantly younger man:

If you’re feeling optimistic: The Rebound
Catherine Zeta-Jones, newly divorced with kids, falls for the babysitter.

If you’re feeling stoical: Prime
Uma Thurman consults Meryl Streep’s therapist about a young artist with whom she’s fallen in love.

If you’re feeling reckless: The Good Girl
Jennifer Aniston cosies up to new colleague, Jake Gyllenhaal, at the suburban discount store.

If you’re feeling cynical: The Graduate
Anne Bancroft seduces her husband’s business partner’s son, Dustin Hoffman.

If you’re feeling tragic: Crush
School headmistress Andie MacDowell falls for a former student in a sleepy English town.

Woe is me

So, you’ve taken a few knocks and you can’t help but feel a little jaded when you listen to others talk about romance. I hear you, people. It’s time to restore faith in relationships and believe a good match makes us bloom, connect, share, be transported and live a few inches off the ground. It’s the closest we get to magic.

Film therapy for faith in love

Sense and Sensibility
‘Always prudence and honour and duty. Elinor, where is your heart?’ Two sisters, one who wears her heart on her sleeve, the other who tucks hers into her bonnet. We will love them both forever. (This one’s a bit of a cheat since it originates as a book – and one of the finest ones at that – but it’s so impeccable, I sneaked it in.)

When you’ve loved someone all your life, the only way to get cured is to love someone else. But how to get over the cure? Audrey Hepburn conducts herself with dignity at every step (oh! so that’s how it’s done).

When Harry Met Sally
The perfect modern day romantic tale (even if it was made nearly 25 years ago) that starts with the question as to whether men and women can be friends. Every detail is charmingly handled and the storytelling is elevated by the segment dividers where older couples discuss their relationships.

And, finally…

Here’s a film that not only tackles matters of the heart but a whole range of issues. Just as Ayurveda recommends Triphala as a catchall curative tonic (even when they don’t know what’s wrong), so I prescribe this film, virtually regardless of the circumstances. It can help with anything.

Especially if you

  • fear you’ll never find love,
  • have an authority figure you don’t get along with,
  • feel you’re stuck and will never be anything other than what you are.

Now, Voyager
Bette Davis is a tormented, hostile and batty woman who gets the chance to change herself. Please note how everyone around her remains exactly the same. The film’s eloquent message is shown with nuance, depth and a great deal of humanity.

And if you don’t have two hours, try five minutes:

Pop Therapy for Love

Night Moves by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. Nostalgia-tinted young romance with two people on a learning curve.

The River by Bruce Springsteen. An epic story told in five minutes, as only Springsteen can do. If you’re not sobbing by the end of it then you haven’t listened properly. The live version is even more heartfelt in its bittersweetness.

The end of the affair: Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. Oh, Amy! How I miss thee. The song that haunts me the most.

‘The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing – and then marry him.’ ― Cher

4 thoughts on “Film Therapy for Love

  1. May I, under the third category, propose the inclusion of Harold and Maude, the timeless (and underrated) gem from Hal Ashby? Gracias.

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