He’s Just Not That Into You — Relationships and Marriage

He's Just Not That Into You Movie PosterFilm:

He’s Just Not That Into You, 2009

Starring Gennifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Connolly, and Scarlett Johansson.

Synopsis (from the movie’s official website):

Based on the wildly popular bestseller from Sex and the City scribes Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, He’s Just Not That Into You tells the stories of a group of interconnected, Baltimore-based twenty- and thirtysomethings as they navigate their various relationships from the shallow end of the dating pool through the deep, murky waters of married life, trying to read the signs of the opposite sex… and hoping to be the exceptions to the “no-exceptions” rule.Gigi just wants a man who says he’ll call–and does–while Alex advises her to stop sitting by the phone. Beth wonders if she should call it off after years of committed singlehood with her boyfriend, Neil, but he doesn’t think there’s a single thing wrong with their unmarried life. Janine’s not sure if she can trust her husband, Ben, who can’t quite trust himself around Anna. Anna can’t decide between the sexy married guy, or her straightforward, no-sparks standby, Conor, who can’t get over the fact that he can’t have her. And Mary, who’s found an entire network of loving, supportive men, just needs to find one who’s straight.

If you’ve ever sat by the phone wondering why he said he would call, but didn’t, or if you can’t figure out why she doesn’t want to sleep with you anymore, or why your relationship just isn’t going to the next level… he (or she) is just not that into you.

My Thoughts:

I am very glad this movie was made, and that the book it was based on was written.  While I may not agree with every point of view shared in it, I think it opens up a dialog that America needs to start having.  After all, our divorce rate is over 50% meaning that something is just not clicking when it comes to forming healthy, stable relationships.  So many of our romantic comedies fuel this notion of “the spark” and do not really address compatibility beyond a superficial level.  While this movie too has it’s trivialities, there are parts of it that head towards that conversation, of how we can improve relationships.

One of the first things addressed in the film is the fact that we all lie to each other. In my last review I talked about the importance of truthfulness and how it is the foundation of all human virtue, and this film also wrestles with this theme.  The film uses examples like “If he treats you badly it means he likes you!”  While these are “white lies” in reality they are not harmless.  They set up up for pursuing or maintaining abusive relationships.  We mean to console and to encourage, but instead we set each other up for bigger romantic disappointment, as well as cause us to spend more time and energy pursuing people that are not right for us.

That being said, we are all beautiful, wonderful people trying hard to live in this world of struggle, and handling rejection is tough.  But there needs to be a way we can encourage each other without lying to one another.  Someone can be smart and beautiful and a good person, and a guy or girl might not be attracted to them and that’s ok.  By saying “You intimidate them [the object of affection” it gives false hope.

The film also does recognize the importance of patience and persistence.  Sometimes you can meet the right person at the wrong time and it is difficult to navigate those waters.  This is why it is all the more important to have friends who are honest with you, that you can consult and learn with, who can balance kindness with honesty.

What I also like about this romantic comedy is that it addresses various stages of a relationship, from the pursuit of one and it’s fragile beginnings, to a long term relationship, to a crumbling marriage.  So many movies of this genre  just focus on the beginning, “the magic spark” and leave out all the other parts.  One married couple has to deal with the pain deception and adultry can bring.  There is a reason why adultry is condemned in pretty much every religion, as well as in secular legal codes, and this film shows the pain it can cause to *all* parties involved, not just the innocent spouse.

It also addresses getting married for the wrong reasons.  Bradley Cooper’s character felt like he had to get married because “If you date a girl too long and don’t marry her you are a jerk”.  Instead he decided to be even more of a jerk by lying and cheating.  His wife clearly did not know how he felt about the marriage or she probably would not have married him.  Sometimes we want a relationship so much we do not even realize that we are settling, or that its foundation is not firm, and that it is doomed for failure.  It is good to see this relationship in contrast with Gennifer Goodwin who is single and wants to find love.  You can see how even if you manage to “trap” one of the guys who are “Just not that into you”, it’s really no good for you in the long run.

There are even more learnings to be had from Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck’s relationship.  They’ve been dating for 7 years and living together a long time but are not married and this is causing angst for Aniston.  Affleck gives the old “why pay $40 for a piece of paper?” line.  It is understandable in this age of skyrocketing divorce rates why someone would be skeptical of marriage, and I too am skeptical of the way most American marriages take place.  That being said, true marriage, what it is meant to be and not what it has been diluted into, is extremely important.  It can help lower anxiety and allow two people to grow and learn together in a safe and committed environment.  Getting that “piece of paper” helps keep one accountable.

Aniston finally has enough and breaks up with Affleck, under the stress of her younger sister getting married.  It is not until her father has a heart attack that she is able to see the importance of good relationships.  All of her 3 sister’s husbands sit in front of the TV watching football.  They do not help with cleaning or with getting food for her ailing father and while her sisters cry and console one another she is left managing the entire house, alone.  When she goes out to the store she returns to find Affleck having cleaned the entire kitchen, and done the laundry.  He was not asked to do this, and they weren’t even together any more, but her loves her and knows that she would need help during this trying time.  She is able to compare her sisters’ husbands to Affleck and realizes that even though he does not want to get married he has a good character.

This is something we do not usually see in films, assessment of the character of the love interests.  Here she is able to see Affleck’s compassion, his level of responsibility, and how good a person he is.  She realizes that their relationship was stronger than most marriages and takes him back.  However, because Affleck has a good character and truly loves Aniston he can learn and realizes how important marriage is to her, so even though he doesn’t “need the paper” because he is committed to her and understands how important it is to her, he decides to propose and marry her.

This also illustrates the importance of communication.  Aniston had felt that way for 5 of the 7 years they were together, but was afraid of losing him and therefore did not speak her heart and instead was living in anxiety.  Love is more than just a feeling, it is action.  Love is a verb.  Relationships are more than just romance, but involve doing the dishes and managing chores, and if we do not address these more mundane aspects it can lead to resentment and relationships crumbling.

While the characters all had various opinions and views on relationships and were at various stages in their lives, they talked and consulted with one another and this is good.  Of course, my big criticism would be the lack of spirituality in any of these relationships, and the secularization of marriage in general.  There is something to be said about recognizing the sacred nature of marriage.  People often talk of sacrifice in marriage, and they see it as compromise, however one definition of sacrifice is to make sacred.

Finding someone that holds the same value you do toward the relationship, and toward marriage is important and this is actually a lesson addressed in the film.  It may seem like a cliche, but many guys are not into commitment.  If that is what you want then pursuing someone who does not share that desire will never work, and this is what Justin Long continually counsels Gennifer Goodwin.  That being said, we should not be disheartened and we should keep Gennifer Goodwin’s hope and optimism because they are not only attractive but lead to a much happier life.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets — The Great Search

Film:

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, 2007

Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Dianne Kruger, Ed Harris, Jon Voight, and Helen Mirren.

Synopsis (From NetFlix):

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) — who found riches and romance at the end of their first hunt for national treasure — reteam with their wisecracking partner in crime, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), for another romp through U.S. history. Now, armed with a stack of long-lost pages from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, Ben is obsessed with finding the truth behind President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

My Thoughts (There be spoilers this way):

While this film is what you would expect from a big budget sequel to a knock-off of the Davinci code, because the main characters are heroes with a sense of mission and purpose there is actually a lot one can analyze about their choices and the virtues they exhibit, as well as the vices held by the ‘bad guys’.  I am going to ignore all the historical inconsistencies and anachronisms because this is a work of fiction after all, and focus on the metaphor and motivation behind the characters actions.

First off, Ben Gates is motivated to investigate the truth.  He wants to clear his great-great-grandfather’s name from being alleged a Lincoln Assassignation Co-conspiritor with John Wilkes Booth.  Even though in the end of the film a great cultural treasure is found that is not the motivation of Gates’ search.

There are many people throughout their lives who exhibit this quality of ‘seeking’ which the Gates family portrays.  We seek enlightenment, we seek belonging, we seek knowledge, we seek happiness.  Some people are more easily contented than others, and perhaps are not driven by this need to ‘find’ whatever it is they are driven to search for.  In Persia there is actually a famous story of Majnun (the name means crazy) who searches everywhere for his Beloved Layli.  Bahá’u’lláh counsels that:

” One must judge of search by the standard of the Majnún of Love. It is related that one day they came upon Majnún sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, “What doest thou?” He said, “I seek for Laylí.” They cried, “Alas for thee! Laylí is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!” He said, “I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her.” Yea, although to the wise it be shameful to seek the Lord of Lords in the dust, yet this betokeneth intense ardor in searching. “Whoso seeketh out a thing with zeal shall find it.” ”

I think the Gates’ purity of motive (to validate the truth) and follow wherever it leads (to Paris, London, The Library of Congress, or Mount Rushmore) is what enables them to find what they are looking for in the end.  The writers and producers may not have consciously intended the film to exhibit spiritual consequences, but in order to make a hero act like a hero he has to have those virtues praised for in the religious and philosophical texts that have shaped our world.  When Gates’ and crew actually find the City of Gold in the underground caves of the Black Hills of South Dakota, there are many tests of this purity.

At first there does not seem to be any gold, but just stone carvings in a large cavern.  Gates’, and his mother & father, are curiously trying to investigate, while Riley, Abigail, and Wilkinson (the ‘bad guy’ played by Ed Harris) are distracted by the only gold idol in the whole place.  As they approach it the floor shifts and they are propelled through a trap door into a potential pit of death.

“He is My true follower who, if he come to a valley of pure gold, will pass straight through it aloof as a cloud, and will neither turn back, nor pause.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Because the Gates’ Family had purity of motive they hadn’t fallen for the trap, whereas Wilkinson did not, and both Riley and Abigail were temporarily seduced by potential fame and fortune.  Luckily for them Ben Gates’ jumped into the trap with them in order to be of service.  He was willing to endure hardship in order to protect his friends and even his rival.

At this point they all land on a giant square slab.  They soon discover that this slab is balanced on a pinacle and that they must cooperate to balance otherwise they could all fall to their deaths.  Again another moral lesson. Cooperation is necessary in order to survive.

They soon find a ladder that is out of reach, and in order to reach it, they must manipulate the slab to tilt like a see-saw, at great risk to whomever is on the bottom end.  Wilkinson, realizing he is outnumbered and fearful of retribution, threatens everyones life by messing up the balance, insisting he must go first.  They heroes let him, and Ben, realizing that the math works out that somebody has to stay behind, offers to sacrifice himself so that the others will live.

Abigail won’t accept this, and instead finds a giant gold pillar and throws it onto the slab to counterbalance Ben’s weight so that he too can reach the ladder.  This gold pillar was probably worth millions, but Abigail didn’t give it a second thought learning her lesson about value.  By practicing the virtue of detachment she is able to reciprocate and save Ben’s life.

Detachment comes back later when the heroes, the bad guy, and the parents reunite in a drained, underwater palace.  There is no way out except by following where the water drains.  Ben’s father Patrick, without missing a beat, throws some dollar bills into the water to watch where the current takes them.  Sure, you may argue that to save your life you would be detached from riches too, but I think the lack of hesitation is admirable in both the case of the pillar and the money.  The heroes didn’t even pause long enough for the audience to realize what they were throwing away, indicating how purely they were driven by doing right by each other.

In the end, Ben again wants to sacrifice himself to save the others, but through freak circumstances Wilkinson is left in the position to make the sacrifice.  He laments that after all this he will not be able to get the recognition of discovering this massive archeological wonder and treasure city.  Ben assures him that he will tell the world, and does, despite the fact that Wilkinson tried to sully his great-great-grandfathers name.  Again, this shows Ben’s commitment to the truth.  Without Wilkinson’s help they would not have been able to find this place, and though Wilkinson was misguided (he could have just asked Gates to help him instead of motivating him by slandering his family name) he too made the right choice in the end.

Our hero had his flaws, and learned from his partners that his confidence was bordering on arrogance, and that he left others behind when he was mentally steps ahead of them in solving puzzles, but in the end he exhibited a pure commitment to the truth, and a realization of the downfalls of the ego, as well as the importance of cooperation, trust, persistence.

This may have seemed like a popcorn flick on the outside, but with open eyes I think it is not a stretch to see the moral choices and struggles these characters had to go through as well as to think about how we all can exhibit these qualities we revere in our heroes.