Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Notebook -- What do you want?

Director: Nick Cassavetes, 2004.

What do you want? That is the question that runs through The Notebook weaving the plotlines of a story within a story together. How the main character Allie (Rachel MacAdams) answers the question will determine the course of her life and the satisfactory resolution of the film.

As the movie opens an old man, Duke (James Garner), is telling a story to an old woman (Gina Rowlands, the director's real-life mother). The woman is suffering from memory loss, dementia perhaps or Altzheimer's. Aging and degeneration has been the main theme of several films recently, including Away from Her, but these were dramas interested in exploring the effects on relationships at the end of life. Here, the focus is on the story being told, which is one of love, young love between two teenagers in 1940.

The idea of a story-teller telling a tale about another time is not new. It was done in The Princess Bride . But there Peter Falk, the narrator, and his grandson were ancillary to the main story. It was just a plot device. Here, there is more. What is unstated at the start becomes readily apparent midway through the movie, causing the last third to be more sentimental than dramatic.

In the tale Noah (Ryan Gosling) is a lumber-mill worker. A young man from a blue-collar home, he has little money, but he has a passion for life. He has a heart full of romance kindled by a love of poetry nurtured by his single-parent father. Allie, on the other hand, is a rich-girl, vacationing with her family in their southern summer home. When they meet at a carnival, he sees in her what he likes, and "When I see something I like, I gotta... I love it." With that kind of determination, the inevitable occurs -- they fall in love, summer love.

When Noah takes her one night to an abandoned and decrepit 200 year-old southern homestead, they dream together and make promises before suddenly being confronted by her parents. In their eyes, Noah is simply "trash". They want something better for Allie. They want a college education and marriage to an eligible (that is, wealthy) bachelor.

She goes off to school. He goes off to war. Both mature. She meets a wounded officer (James Marsden), and he falls for her. He is everything her parents want for her. He is from old money. He is an officer (Noah was a grunt private). So, of course they get engaged.

Meanwhile, Noah gets to buy the decrepit house, and begins the arduous task of restoring it, to fulfill the "promise" he made to Allie. When it is done, 7 years have passed, but it is enough of an accomplishment to make the newspaper, which coincidentally she sees. Drawn back to him like a moth to a flame, their love is reignited. But she is a woman about to marry. When her mother tracks her down, Allie must face the toughest decision of her life: which man will she choose? What does she want?

Ryan Gosling is a wonderful actor. Here he plays a dewy-eyed romantic dreamer. His performance is nothing special but it garnered him attention, and he has gone on to show how good he is in such films as Half Nelson and Lars and the Real Girl. The former role earned him an Oscar-nomination while the latter film showed how subtle and nuanced his acting really is. He is one of the best young actors of this current generation. Rachel MacAdams, on the other hand, is good but not great, another pretty-faced actress.

In the climactic scene, Noah tells Allie, "Would you stop thinking about what everyone wants? Stop thinking about what I want, what he wants, what your parents want. What do YOU want? What do you WANT?" At the start of the film, when they first meet, when he asks her what she does, she reels off all her activities. These are all things she does because her parents want her to. The only thing she does for herself is paint. She has lived her life doing what others want. She is like a caged bird, beautifully living a life "controlled" by others, never finding the freedom to do what she wants for herself.

In The Notebook the love of Noah awakens Allie's soul allowing her to see her life as her own. How often have we lived our life for another person, a spouse or parent? How often have we subjugated our own desires, our own wants, to satisfy another's desires or demands? In doing so, we lose something of ourselves, our own identity.

We have each been made unique, with a personality of our own. We must strive to become the person we were made to be. But there is one whose desires we should seek, whose goals we should understand. The Creator, Yahweh, has made us in his image and has a passion for us like Noah's passion for Allie. When we come to see this, when we come to embrace Jesus as the one worth loving with our all our heart, our spirit will be awakened to life, real life. Then, we will see that our life really belongs to the one who has bought us with his own death, Jesus. And we will find that Jesus gently molds our desires to match his, so that we want to pursue him and his goals with a passion unknown to us before. Only in doing this, can we attain true happiness.

So, what do you want? How do you answer this question?

Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs

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