08 February 2014

Don't Tell Me You Know; Show Me You Care

I love a good sex--I mean, love scene.

My all time favorite is the scene in Desperado where Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas--two of the most gorgeous creatures in the history of filmdom--worship each other's bodies with laughter. And candles. And spurs. On the top floor of a bookstore, no less.  Seriously, it doesn't get any better than that.

Image courtesy Greg Uchrin
Though I agree with Kimberley, all of Dirty Dancing (ahem) comes darn close.  Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze find themselves and each other in the steps of their movie-long dance. Their bodies say the words their characters dare not speak. Their climactic pas-de-deux becomes a true climax, a rapture in which everyone can share--and it's entirely PG.

But when it comes to romance, I'm a lot pickier.  I consider Romeo and Juliet two of the dumbest dweebs to ever walk the earth.  What did they ever do for each other besides get themselves killed?  So what if it ultimately served a higher purpose?  They didn't plan it.  All they cared about was showing up the grown-ups in their lives.  It's the ultimate "They'll be sorry when I'm gone!"  Yeah, they were.  Unlike R and J, the rest of the folks in Verona actually cared about someone other than themselves.

Han Solo's big "I know" moment?  Sorry, girls.  I don't consider that romantic at all.  It was the most ill-conceived, arrogant, self-serving thing have said following Princess Leia's profession of love.  Those words are all about him.  They give no hint he reciprocates Leia's feeling.  They turn her love into something one-sided and pathetic, offering no comfort or any reason to fight for him.  Frankly, I would've kept him as a coffee table.  It would've been a salutary lesson for my next lover.

To be fair, the endings of Jane Eyre and Rebecca also drive me bonkers.  I understand that in the Victorian worldview, both Mr. Rochester and Maxim de Winter must pay for their sins.  But I resent the way their punishment is visited upon the redoubtable Jane and de Winter's second wife.  The women only get their men when they're too disfigured and damaged to live without them.  That isn't fair in my books.

But, you say, love isn't fair.  Maybe not, but for me, romance has to be both fair and smart.  There's a lot of it around, too, even if it's not in the places you'd expect to find it.

Well, in some of the places you'd expect to find it.  Rick's farewell to Ilsa in Casablanca is one of my touchstones.  So many things happen in that scene.  In the few days since Ilsa reentered his life, he's revisited her betrayal in Paris, rediscovered her and himself, and as a result come to a more complete understanding of the nature of love.  He redeems the jaded, bitter man he'd become by an act of selflessness.  It's dangerous, maybe even quixotic, but it's the right action in terms of the greater good--something which cannot be said Romeo, Juliet or Han. 

Leia actually comes close by this standard.  It took balls to admit she loved Han at that moment.  But I digress.

Another of my big romantic moments happened in Buffy the Vampire Slayer after she unwillingly rises from the dead.  She casually asks her long-time antagonist Spike how long she'd been gone.  He knows the time to the hour.  Knowing her, even if it was mostly fighting with her, changed him so profoundly, the world was altered for the worse by her absence. 

For me, that combination of change and selflessness is key.  Love doesn't change everything about a person, as many a spouse has found to their chagrin.  But it necessarily changes the lover's perspective on the world.
 
Love is a dance.  Grace and skill are optional, but you can't do it alone.  You need a partner, because that's the whole point.  Love is about putting another person's happiness and well-being ahead of your own.  Ideally that happiness includes you, though in advanced stages (like Rick's) you may have to take a broader view.  But assuming the world doesn't hang in the balance, the only way to ensure the other person's happiness includes you is to embrace what's important to them.

Romeo and Juliet, notwithstanding, Shakespeare got it.  Especially in Much Ado About Nothing.  That's the one that does it for me.

The heroes, Beatrice and Benedict, have a complicated history.  The dialogue implies they've been lovers in the past, but circumstances drove them apart.  Now their conversations read more like confrontations.  Nevertheless, they can't leave each other alone, and their friends, including the young lovers Hero and Claudio, conspire to draw them back together.

It doesn't take a lot.  But their renewed affection is tested when Hero is accused of betraying Claudio on their wedding day.  Beatrice's defense of her friend is immediate and passionate.  She demands Benedict do what she can't: slay his friend and comrade-in-arms Claudio for besmirching Hero's honor.

And after careful consideration, fully understanding all the dreadful consequences of the act, Benedict challenges his blood brother Claudio to a duel.

Being a comedy, it all turns out well.  No one dies.  The virtuous are exonerated and the wicked punished.  But that doesn't mitigate the changes wrought in Benedict's world view or the selflessness of his act.

Which brings us to my latest standard of romance: Sherlock.  Yeah, that guy, the one who calls himself a "high-functioning sociopath".

He's not a sociopath.  He's Pinocchio.  He wants to be a real boy.  The series is about how he does it. 
The way I see it (and believe me, your mileage may vary) Mycroft recognized his (much) younger brother's mental gifts rivaled his own, and decided to use then to his advantage.  He taught him about the Mind Palace (a technique known to the Classical Greeks--really!) and convinced him that the life of the mind was the only life worth living.  He got away with it, too, until Sherlock decided he needed a roomie and met John Watson.

Season One of Sherlock opened Pinocchio's--I mean, Sherlock's eyes to aspects of the world he never considered.  The game afoot is a lot more fun when you have someone to play with.  Fun leads to fondness, and Sherlock starts to think, however fitfully, about how his actions will affect his pet human.

Season Two accelerated the process.  Sherlock began to see himself in context with the people around him.  He is genuinely appalled when his deductions about Molly's Christmas presents expose her crush on him.  He feels bad for her.  That's an enormous step.  Irene takes the process even further, inspiring actual heroics.  Sherlock's response to Moriarty reflected these little epiphanies, epiphanies which had their root and flowered as a result of his continued association with John.

But the series isn't done yet.  In Season Three, after two years ripping through Moriarty's old organization, our boy backslides.  He wasn't fully human when he went away, so he wasn't prepared for his friends' reactions to his loss and his return.  As a result he bombed.  He acted, in Jennie Crusie's immortal words, like the dickwad protagonist.

Of course, he did.  His journey isn't finished.  Screwing up is a necessary detour--and a de rigueur part of the process.  His best man speech for John and Mary Watson was the worst and best best man's speech ever, exactly as series co-creator Steven Moffat intended.  The worst came first.  But once the old mind-over-matter crap was out of the way, it became a moving testament to friendship delivered by a man who recognizes his deficiencies as a person and a friend.  That friendship, that love, is tested to its limit in the season's final ep, "The Last Vow" based on "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton". 

In the original story, Holmes resorts to chicanery and burglary to destroy a blackmailer's hold over others.  He and Watson withhold eyewitness evidence relating to the blackmailer's murder, because they see his death at the hand of one of his victims as entirely just.

Things don't play out quite the same in the updated version penned by Moffat.  The blackmailer is far more dangerous and pernicious than the original, and his fortress of information is well nigh impregnable.  Worse, the information at the blackmailer's disposal represents an immediate threat to the happiness and well-being of the person who has profoundly changed Sherlock's life for the better.  So, fully appreciating the heinous consequences, Sherlock Holmes makes a selfless act.  On Christmas, mirroring and doubling down on his epiphany with Molly those few Christmases ago. 

To my way of thinking, it doesn't get more romantic than that.

Jean Marie Ward

(If you like Greg Uchrin's pastel of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, feel free to let him know at his Facebook page or in person at Katsucon, February 14-16. Greg is my dh, and he agrees with me about Han Solo. That's love, folks. :-) )

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