Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Rarest Love of All

*NOTE: The following post is my contribution the Lovesick Blog-a-thon. that is now being hosted by Lucas over at 100 Films. Be warned that it contains SPOILERS to the film The Shawshank Redemption, so if you haven't seen it you probably shouldn't read on. Instead, you should run out and rent the film to watch as soon as you possibly can. For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy it. Happy Valentine's Day!


There is a moment in The Shawshank Redemption that never fails to move me to tears every time I watch it. It comes in the film's final sequence. When Red (Morgan Freeman) has finally been released from prison and is walking along a beach which joins the Pacific Ocean. His friend Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is hard at work sanding his boat when he turns and sees Red walking toward him. Red smiles bigger than we have ever seen him smile. Andy also smiles as he stands up. Now at this point, just when the film looks like it is about to "overplay its hand" and slip into what could almost become "melodrama" with a close-up of these two good friends embracing and the music swelling, the filmmakers employ (as they have throughout the entire film) remarkable restraint that makes the moment even more powerful. It cuts to a helicoptor shot that is pulling away from the two men!

That's right! It is not moving towards them in order to fill every inch of the frame with their highly emotional reunion. It is going in the OTHER direction. It is giving them their "privacy." Allowing this moment to be shared by them alone. And yet, though they are very small, if you look carefully you can see Andy jumping down from the boat and walking towards his friend as Red does the same. Neither man runs, though their speeds do increase slightly. We see Red drop his luggage on the sand and, in a moment that is for me one of the most touching ever committed to celluloid, they meet. The two little dots on the screen unite and become one dot. I remember when I first saw the film, I wanted these two characters to hug more than I had ever wanted any two people to hug in a movie before. People can debate all they want about "the greatest kiss in movie history." In my mind, this is without a doubt the single greatest embrace in movie history... not in spite of the fact that it is seen from a distance but because it is (and it is capped off by an on-screen dedication to Frank Darabont's agent and close personal friend who died just before the completion of the movie due to AIDS complications).

The Shawshank Redemption is, among other things (including one of my all-time favorite films) an incredibly deep and profound love story. People might find it odd to refer to it in this manner since it is primarily a dark, dramatic prison movie and that the relationship between the two main characters is not really depicted as "love" in the conventional sense. In fact, the closest we ever get to seeing these two characters be vulnerable/emotional with each other (save for the final scene) is when Red softly asks, as the they play checkers together, "Andy, we getting to be kind of... friends, ain't we?" To which Andy replies, "Yeah, I guess." Has there ever been a more undertstated classification of a relationship than this?

And yet a love story is precisely what I say it is, for is not friendship, after all, a type of love? Can two men who are "just friends" be said to love each other? I think they can and I am sure most people would say they agree. So, why do we not we actually say it more often?

I think that "man love" gets somewhat a bad rap in our culture nowadays. It is something that we hardly ever see depicted in movies, TV, etc. Heterosexual love we see all the time. Homosexual love we're seeing more and more and casual friendships we see a lot too, but a profoundly deep and abiding love between two men that is not romantic/sexual in nature is pretty hard to find (though such a relationship between two women seems more common). For some reason it often seems to be mistaken for a sexual love. In fact, it is almost more acceptable nowadays to depict the "love that dare not speak its name" because at least with homosexuality there is no ambiguity. However, when two men display a genuinely warm regard and affection for one another, it is often mocked as being "gay" or "queer." I mean, how many countless jokes did we have to endure being made about Sam and Frodo's "relationship" in The lord of the Rings films? Too many as far as I'm concerned. Again, I think it's because such a love between two males is so rarely seen that it is difficult for a lot of people (particularly very "macho" or "masculine" males) to accept. And yet I can't help but wonder whether it is, in fact, rarely seen because it's harder to accept or whether it's harder to accept because we rarely see it. Even Tim Robbins himself has admitted that it is extremely rare in movies nowadays that you can get away with depicting such a relationship "without there being a car chase."

Perhaps it is because friendship itself is not valued as highly as it ought to be. Maybe, for some weird reason, it is just not considered as "special" as eros (i.e. "erotic love"). Perhaps we have devalued real friendship to the point where it has lost quite a lot of its meaning. We use the term "friends" to refer to people that are really just our acquaintances. We would rarely use the term "love" to describe a friendship and yet it was the belief of the ancients that it was the most admirable of loves. C.S. Lewis writes about this is in his book The Four Loves, where he defines friendship as being more than mere companionship, he describes it as the least "natural" of the loves because it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either affection (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or charity (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. The saying may be that "love is blind" (lovers may often see no flaws in their beloved), but, as Ebert Hubbard wrote, "A Friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you anyway." There is wisdom in friendship. There is truth and honesty in friendship. There is trust and respect in friendship. There is, (I'm just gonna say it) redemption in friendship. Quite apart from what the "conventional wisdom" might be, the love of a friend is no less "special" or meaningful than erotic/romantic/sexual love. I am not necessarily saying it is superior, but it is definitely not inferior.

I debated for a long time on what to write about for this blog-a-thon (as I often do). At one point I considered writing about several movies that contain what are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful love stories ever told: Breakfast at Tiffany's, When Harry Met Sally and Manhattan, (which, in particular, I am really glad I didn't write about as Dan Eisenberg did an admirable job in his post Not Everybody gets Corrupted). I was even about to compile a list of quotes from movies on love ("Love means never having to say you're sorry," etc) but at the last minute, and completely by accident, I was reminded of what is for me the most compelling love story of all and it is one that a lot of people wouldn't even recognize as such. The next time (or perhaps for some of you the first time) you watch The Shawshank Redemption, pay attention not only to how fantastic a film it is but also how marvelous a love story it is.

8 comments:

Jonathan said...

Damian,

What a beautiful moment that ending is, isn't it?

I'm so glad you wrote about this. I broached a similar topic in my contribution to the Blog-a-Thon, but you expressed some ideas I was not able to, or didn't think of.

I never thought that I would be the type to have a very close male friend, but I do, and he knows that I love him and how much I care for him, and in what sense, without necessarily having to articulate it so.

Anyway, I enjoyed your post, and I love Shawshank -- it's one of my top 5 Desert Island movies.

johanna said...

Damian -- nice post.

The ending of this film always reminds me of Jaws for the obvious reasons, but also because these two men have been through so much together that just being on a beach feels like heaven...

Damian said...

Jonathan:

It is a beautiful moment. Sublime.

BTW I loved your post, Jonathan. You're right in that you do touch on some of the same ideas that I do. I have always fiound it fascinating that though Kevin Smith walks and talks like a typical "tough guy," his movies seem to demonstrate that he has a thoughtfulness and senseitivity rarely displaye dby men nowadays. I like his movies very much and I love that Jay refers to Silent Bob as his "hetero-lifemate."


Johanna:

What's funny is that I have seen Jaws (conservatively speaking) maybe a hundred times. It is one of my personal favorite films. I watch it at least once a year (usually in the summertime) and yet I have never, not once, made that association. :)

Anyway, as I say in my post, it is one of my favorite final shots in any film. I was shocked to discover recently that it was a re-shoot, that originally Frank Darabont intended to end the film on the bus with Morgan Freeman's narration ("I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope."), but when test audiences felt dissatisfied, Darabont realized that after having such an oppressive, melancholy tone for most of the film, they owe the audience that "release." I think they made the right decision.

johanna said...

agreed...but I might just be saying that because I love beaches and wrote about a film that began and ended on one...

Naah, of course my judgment's good ;)

That's interesting about the test audiences. I have mixed feelings about that sort of thing as a writer. On the one hand, you want your piece to have integrity, but on the other you want your readers' feedback. Hard to say where to draw the line.

Dan E. said...

After reading this again, I can't help but breathe a sigh of relief that you did not write about Manhattan. Though I believe the film certainly deserves the attention it receives and would be happy to see your reaction to it, I would be shamed by your eloquence.

As for that rare love, I must say I never really thought of the ending of The Shawshank Redemption like that. It is an amazingly poignent moment, but I always felt a bit manipulated by the ending. But when you really think about it, they avoided anything that would have oversentimentalized the moment, allowing the beauty of the moment to rise from the viewer, not from cruel manipulation.

I really should give this one another go. Great post.

Damian said...

Johanna:

While watching the film again last night (and crying yet again at its final scene) I kept in the back of my mind your Jaws association, and there was a moment where Thomas Newman's music actually sounded a little like the final few seconds of John William's score. Though I'm still inclined to think it's a coincidence, you've actually got me wondering now if it could possibly have been a concsious decision on the part of the filmmakers.


Dan:

Your post was great, Dan. I loved it. Someday way off in the future I'll do my own post about Manhattan, but I've got plenty of other movies and topics to write about in the meantime.

I am pleased to hear that you are willing to give Shawshank Redemption "another go" sometime. Whenever someone is willing to watch that film (either again or for the first time) it does my heart good. If I'm working the counter here at the video store, for example, and a customer wants to rent it, I can't help but say something about what a great film it is. I think there is a lot going on in that movbie, a lot of meaning to be gleaned from the various elements. The "love story" is just one of many aspects that makes it a deep and profound work of art.

johanna said...

Damian--

That could be, although John Williams' music tends to be burned into the brain, partly because he reworks a lot of his own music and partly because his originality is somewhat traceable. If you find yourself watching Arsenic and Old Lace anytime, when you get to the exchange between Peter Lorre and the guy playing Johnny, where they're on the top of the basement stairs talking about how Peter Lorre's going to murder someone, pay especial attention to the score.

It sounds an awful lot like Darth Vader's theme.

That's not to say that composers can't find a starting point or inspiration for their works, but in this case, I wonder if Williams himself may have had more of a hand in something like that.

Damian said...

John Williams' music tends to be burned into the brain,...

That's true.

..partly because he reworks a lot of his own music...

Well, at least he doesn't "rip himself off" like James Horner does.

...and partly because his originality is somewhat traceable.

One could argue that's only because his music is more recognizable than most.

But then, I don't really feel the need to defend Williams. I think my feelings on him are made pretty clear in my earlier post.

If you find yourself watching Arsenic and Old Lace anytime, when you get to the exchange between Peter Lorre and the guy playing Johnny, where they're on the top of the basement stairs talking about how Peter Lorre's going to murder someone, pay especial attention to the score. It sounds an awful lot like Darth Vader's theme.

I've never noticed that. I'll pay attention the next time I'm watching that movie. Thanks! :)