• Karen

I Blame the Movies

Updated: Apr 12

The music swells, the ocean roars, and Gene Tierney walks down the beach with a far-away look in her eyes. I believe The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is one of the two movies that set me up for disappointment. If you haven’t seen this 1947 black and white masterpiece, I recommend grabbing a pot of tea and settling into a quiet space to watch it. Just don’t let your mind take the romantic notions as realities.

Now, if you don’t want to be spoiled on the ending, stop reading now and go watch the movie. Then come back. I’ll wait.

Mrs. Muir is a beautiful young widow, with a spritely daughter and over-bearing in-laws. She moves through life in a daze. In fact at one point she expresses that her daughter “just happened.” Tierney, with her angelic face and dreamy delivery, easily convinces viewers that’s she’s not really of this world. Classic Victorian era money troubles send Mrs. Muir and her daughter Anna to the seaside, where they rent an old, and clearly haunted, house.

The house’s resident ghost, and previous owner, is a blustering sea captain played by Rex Harrison. I won’t give you every detail, because I really do believe you should watch this gem of a film, and you may not have stopped to do so yet as I advised. I can tell you that Mrs. Muir, whose first name is Lucy, discovers love, sorrow, and contentment over the years. I will also share the two elements that seem to have altered me forever, and not in a good way.

During her time in the haunted Gull Cottage, Lucy writes a book. She’s aided, to viewers’ delight, by the salty ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg. This adventure gave me one of my earliest, and most dangerous notions. Lucy’s book is published with relative ease, she just bluffs her way in to an appointment with a publisher, and she lives for years on the royalties. The royalties from one book. First seed of fantasy future planted.

The ending of the film takes a turn for the ethereal, and plants the second seed for later discontent. After the symphonic and romantic ending, I longed for a love that would defy social convention and even space, time, and death.

Speaking of love and unrealistic expectations, let me introduce you to Gigi. This 1958 musical comedy presents a scrubbed up and optimistic view of the life of French courtesans. The pluck of Leslie Caron as the young Gigi and the old world charm of her suitor Gaston, played by Louis Jourdan, enabled generations of movie fans to sing along and ignore the creepy reality of grooming and misogyny upon which the story rests. And it’s perhaps the incredible fame of Maurice Chevalier that had audiences seeing his two musical numbers, Thank Heaven for Little Girls and I Remember It Well as something other than thinly veiled pedophilia and callous narcissism respectively.

If you can suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours, Gigi is a fun movie to watch. The tunes are catchy, the costuming lush and lavish, and the actors are charming and funny. It’s enough to make you ignore the realities that are hinted at in the script. Gigi, her mother, and her aunt live together in relative poverty. Her family is consciously grooming her to be a sex toy. All the while they know that her eventual fate is most probably multiple heartbreaks, relationships based on contracts and not love, and if she’s lucky an eventual marriage to someone willing to overlook her past. Yet, in true Hollywood fashion Gigi gets her happy ending, and this is where a poorly guarded subconscious gets into trouble.

Gaston decides to marry this young girl who has no money, little education, and who is decidedly below him in social status. He does this to preserve her purity. He cannot bear the idea that Gigi will be gossiped about and treated the same way his many previous lovers have been. Gaston is willing to defy tradition to make Gigi a wife instead of a mistress. So what’s wrong with this happy ending to one of my guilty pleasure films?

First, while Gigi and perhaps her immediate family are rescued by Gaston’s wealth, there’s no further mention of the many other women in the film who are still relegated to the life of paid companions. As society moves forward, the problems with the story and its happy ending are impossible to ignore. However, for me this film planted another one of those seeds for future disappointment. I expected, waited for, and then mourned the lack of a grand romantic and sacrificial gesture by any of my own partners. No one was willing to turn their entire world upside down for me. Time and again I, like most of us, have had to rescue myself, and it’s often not pretty.

The subconscious lessons from these two films can trap us in the desolate land between hope and knowledge.

We know that most writers never become famous, and yet we keep writing. We see statistics on divorce and yet many of us still choose to marry. The space between rough reality and our hopes and dreams can be lonely. Does that mean we should abandon hope and give up? OR can we update our fantasies and keep moving towards success and serenity?

One book (or YouTube video, IG photo, or article etc.) is not likely to give us lasting fame or life-long security. Yet, being a creator can lead us to a community of supportive people who see our talents, provide us with needed perspective, and support our every win—no matter how tiny. And it’s highly unlikely that most of us will have a romance where our partner burns all the bridges in their life, surrenders every previously held belief, and rescues us from loneliness and poverty to the sound so soaring violin music. However, we can find love.

It may come in fits and bits throughout our life, but love is there if we are open to it. Unlike the carefully crafted three-act script, our romances may be messy, complicated, and take unexpected turns that spoil the happily-ever-after ending we had in mind. In place of the movie version of life we can have patience, understanding, and genuine relationships with people who care for us all the time, even in moments when we aren’t camera ready.

Yes, I blame my dysfunctional romantic notions on a lifetime of movie viewing. Sometimes. However, when I’m honest I realize it’s just human nature to want to win the lottery, stumble into fame, and live happily ever after, and that’s okay.

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