Can Love Conquer All?

What movies new and old tell us about the power of love

Posted Aug 10, 2012

I recently watched two movies, both of them well-made, entertaining, and utterly romantic, but representing very different viewpoints on the power of love: one idealistic and one realistic. I tend toward the idealistic myself, but at first even I found the first movie’s message of “with love, nothing is impossible” naïve, while the second movie’s message that “love can’t solve everything” was more realistic, but ultimately heartbreaking. Is there a middle ground? Can hopeless romantics (like me) soar on the wings of love while still keeping our feet on the ground? (There’s nothing like mixing metaphors in the morning.)

But their love seems doomed: if she leaves Brigadoon, the town will disappear forever, and if he stays, he gives up his life in the modern world. At the end of the day, he leaves Brigadoon and Charisse, but soon after returning to New York City, he realizes he can’t live without her, and returns to the site of Brigadoon, despite knowing his search is futile. But wait—Brigadoon amazingly reappears, solely due to Kelly and Charisse’s love, and a recurring theme of the movie (and play) is affirmed. In the words of a town elder, “if ye love someone deeply, anythin' is possible.”

But then life interferes, in some ways randomly but in one important way due to their own action. Specifically, Jones overstays her student visa to spend a few more weeks with Yelchin, but after returning to her native England, finds she cannot return to the States. This forced separation introduces a crack into their relationship, which many trips abroad by Yelchin—including one in which he and Jones marry—cannot help mend. Other people pass through their individual lives while apart, and although they end up together at the end, the viewer is left with the strong impression that their fantastic romance has been irreparably damaged.

Brigadoon is a fairy tale, obviously, but it’s the kind of fairy tale that many of us still cling to. It ends up being unrealistic not just in how it ends, but also in the way Kelly and Charisse fall in love. In the tradition of much classic film, love is instantaneous but unshakeable, cemented by a dance and a kiss. And it is this love that is strong enough to reverse the “miracle” of Brigadoon (granted by God in answer to a prayer) and allows Kelly and Charisse to be together. (Happily ever after, we can safely presume.) In contrast, the initial love story told in Like Crazy strikes us as eminently realistic: two nice, smart, adorable young people develop a relationship by spending time together, learning about each other, and over time falling in love. It is a modern romance rather than a fairy tale, much more believable—which only serves to make the gradual deterioration of their relationship through the rest of the movie all the more heartwrenching (aided by the occasional injections of false hope, such as their marriage).

But it would be too easy to grow cynical and dismiss the fantasy of the all-powerful love that can overcome anything life has to offer. This is still the ideal, the dream, what we should hope for and aspire to—as long as we don’t expect it or rely on it. Because we never know—any relationship we start could be the one that works, the one that comes close to the fairy tale, and the one that survives all the intrusions and setbacks that fall under the heading of “life”. Of course, there isn’t some entity called Love that will solve these problems for us—we have to do that ourselves. But a great love can inspire us to work to overcome these problems, changing the world to make it fit our love rather than letting the world say no.

If Brigadoon is the ideal, then Like Crazy is the cautionary tale. We can still believe that when you love someone deeply enough, anything is possible—in fact, we have to believe that, or we’ve given up before anything has even begun. But it isn’t just going to work out by itself; you have to do your best to make it work. (Just don’t wake up everyone else in the process.)


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