Wednesday, 19 January 2011

What It's Really About

But following on from yesterday, one person's satisfying resolution is another person's confusion.  Take the ending of In Bruges.  Does he die, or not?  My boss at the American university where I teach asked me that, because he knew it was one of my favourite films.  I said it didn't matter, because that wasn't the right question.

Similarly, Jim mentioned the recent David Suchet adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.  More of less everybody knows the plot and who dunnit, so the suspense is inevitably lacking.  However, when the murder has been revealed, the credits don't roll.  The film continues...because it's not about Who Dunnit, it's about Poirot - his religious belief, his need for justice, his innate obedience to the command: Thou shalt not kill.  Who Dunnit? becomes the wrong question.

I write novels that fall into the Romance category.  Yet, to me, the books are never about Will the main character find love?  That's not the right question - because the answer is inevitably Yes!  My questions are more: In A Single to Rome, will Natalie find her way back onto the path she left when she was in her teens?  In Adultery for Beginners, will Isabel learn to forge her own path rather than relying on others?  In Nice Girls Do, will Anna develop her emotional IQ to match her academic IQ?

With In Bruges, the question isn't about whether he lives or dies, but whether he wants to live - and that's the question that gets answered.  'You mean it's about redemption,' said my boss.  'Ah.  Now I understand.'  


Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve not read a traditional romance novel but I’ve seen plenty of films. Usually they’re romantic comedies – for some reason the film industry seems to find love funny (I wonder why?) – and, yes, most of them are fairly formulaic: boy finds girl, loses girl, finds girl again and I know that’s going to happen or something along those lines. But every now and there I see one where things don’t pan out the way I expected and I don’t mean he suddenly realises that he’s actually in love with his best friend (the Pretty in Pink scenario) but rather he (or more often she) realises that love is not the answer, not there and then anyway. A happy ending doesn’t mean the leads all end up with someone (a good example being Hannah and Her Sisters) but that they find happiness or at least the potential for it. This happens in TV all the time (especially Star Trek for some reason) where the captain finds love and yet they both head off at the end of the episode in different directions because of their careers. We don’t need to see them achieve happiness, we only need to believe that it is possible.

badas2010 said...

Sounds like you should be the boss instead!

Sarah Duncan said...

I haven't seen Hannah and Her Sisters for ages, I must go back to it. Doesn't Dianne Wiest play the hopeless sister who ends up getting the happiest ending? And Hannah gets what she wanted, but then doesn't like it - hmm, I might be getting this all wrong. I remember it was a good film.

Woody Allen has interesting endings generally - Vicky Christina Barcelona, for example. None of the characters get what they want and it's up to us to decide if they've learned anything from it. But an enjoyable film (especially after that dreadful tennis one).

My boss at the American university does lots of admin and meetings which I wouldn't like, but you're right in theory - I should be in charge of everything!