For the past 14 years, When Harry Met Sally has normalized the idea that two platonic friends who are deeply in love with each other (but who are refusing to admit it!) can be secret soul mates. Life would happen, they’d eventually confess their deepest feelings, it wouldn’t be awkward, and they’d live happily ever after. It sounds like an ideal ending, but this kind of situation rarely plays out that way. In reality, the crusher has probably been crushing since the first day the two met, and the crushee is probably painfully oblivious or plagued with guilt over his/her unreturned affection. But we, the people who are caught in this situation, don’t care about reality. All we care about is that Harry and Sally are best friends and soul mates, so my best male friend and I are soul mates, too. Right?
I mean, maybe. We’ve forgotten that Harry and Sally are not real people. And as Chuck Klosterman, author of my newest favorite book ever Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto says, When Harry Met Sally is only one of the million quintessential examples of how the interchangeability of art and life is destroying everything. I’m a pretty optimistic person, but I sometimes find myself subconsciously expecting my life to end up like a cheesy romantic comedy. Not merely wanting, but expecting. And why do I expect this? The Sarah Jessica Parkers and the Sandra Bullocks and the Drew Barrymores of the world tell me that if my life is somewhat mirroring that of any movie character’s, things will just work out for me in the same way things work out for said movie character. But when real life doesn’t live up to fake movie versions of real life-and it often does not-everyone’s dissatisfied.
This is not cynical. This is just reality. The Notebook gives people in verbally abusive relationships the expectation that they’ll die together-old and withered and in love-in the hospital. I’m sorry, but couples that don’t agree on anything, criticize each other, and fight all the time likely won’t last. Sure, Noah and Allie were crazy about each other, but they simply didn’t know anything about the very real concept of compromise. He’s Just Not That Into You makes me think I can give a theatrical speech to the object of my unrequited love, storm angrily out of his apartment at 3 a.m., and, weeks later, find him standing outside my door pouring his heart out after realizing that he shouldn’t have let me go. Now, if my speech happened in real life, that guy would definitely think I’m a psycho and I’d be left feeling embarrassed the next day. Of course, people will continue reciting long confessional monologues to loved ones and expecting a “You’re right! I’ve missed you so much!” response a la He’s Just Not That Into You or any of the other thousands of happy endings in Hollywood. In reality, though, I’ve only experienced anything close to this scenario once. And instead of pouring rain or boom boxes, alcohol was involved. Where’s my movie?
If the media’s attempt to define “what’s supposed to happen” isn’t sneakily destroying everyone’s lives enough, there’s one archetype that is definitely doing so over and over again. Enter the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, also known as both my biggest inspiration and my biggest nightmare. A term invented by movie critic Nathan Rabin, the MPDG is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures” (quote by Rabin himself). The MPDG is eccentric, girly, delicate, and listens to way better music than me. She’s simultaneously the sexiest and the most innocent girl in a movie. She’s Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, Kate Hudson’s in Almost Famous, Audrey Hepburn’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s-the list goes on and on.
The MPDG isn’t meant to have any real problems or history of her own, so she’s always super carefree and playful. I always wonder how I can be more like her-until I remember that she is literally as two dimensional as a paper plate. Yet there’s something about her that tugs at my insecurities: Why don’t I listen to music as unusual as her? Why am I not as naturally quirky? Why can’t I make brooding young dudes loosen up and smile all the time? Why can’t I rock sundresses that hard? MPDGs never have meltdowns, never let things truly bother them, and never have trouble getting male protagonists to fall for them. Similar to the aforementioned fabricated movie versions of reality, however, MPDGs are not real. Tons of things bother me. Getting the guy I like to like me back is nearly impossible. And I can’t wear sundresses because I’m 5’9” and most sundresses are really short on me. But hey, at least I’m real.
One of the few films that actually comes anywhere close to reality is 500 Days of Summer. In the movie, Summer (slightly MPDG, but we’ll ignore that) falls for Tom for a seemingly long period of time. The two shop in Ikea, play the penis game, eat pancakes, and do a plethora of other things that make you question how romantic your relationship’s Thursday night dinners in Hillside really are. Somewhere during the movie, Summer just kind of stops liking Tom. There’s no real dramatic ending to it. “How is that a movie though? What even happens?” asks my wonderfully inquisitive roommate during a weekday discussion of the film. Good questions. Nothing really happens because sometimes nothing really happens in real life except that people lose interest. 500 Days of Summer is so mind bogglingly realistic that it’s more like a documentary of your best friend’s weekly experiences with men than an actual movie.
This is not to say that these movie versions of reality don’t exist. Yes, a guy can realize that he’s made a mistake and want to try again with an ex-girlfriend. Yes, two best friends can secretly be soul mates and it can all work out. Yes, love can last forever. Yes, maybe one day I’ll find sundresses that fit me. What I’m saying is that we can’t expect these things to happen, even though we subconsciously do anyway. What we can do instead is have hope, and I guess life is all about navigating the thin line between hope and expectation. In the mean time, I’ll be watching a hell of a lot more horror films.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.