From 'The Thin Man' to 'Dogfight': A broken-hearted Valentine's playlist
It has not been an easy week.
At the start of the week, we had our editorial meeting here at HitFix, as we do every Monday, to talk about both the week ahead and longer-term projects as well. For fairly obvious reasons, there was a fair amount of talk about Valentine's Day content, and I mentioned a few different ideas that I might write about, including one that I'll end up publishing at some point about Steve Martin.
But even as I pitched a few ideas, I found myself uncomfortable with the entire idea of writing about romantic films right now. Honestly, I was hoping to spend this week with my head down and then just sail right through this weekend without writing about love at all, because for the first time in my adult life, I am no longer sure what I think about it.
After all, I was with my wife for 14 years. And over the course of that long relationship, my ideas about love and fidelity and intimacy changed dramatically, not only because of what I had in my life, but also because of what I did not have in my life. Even the experiences I've had since I moved out of my house last year have altered me in fairly dramatic ways. There are films I can't watch anymore, films that belonged to us, films that feel wrong now in some fundamental way. The same thing is true of music. Last week, I was listening to iTunes on shuffle, and a Dean Martin tune came up. I've listened to Dean Martin my whole life, but now I can't. That sound… the entire mood of Martin's music… that's tied to her now. Tied to times when things worked, when we still made sense.
The last time I was a single person on Valentine's Day, I was 30 years old. I was working as a screenwriter, and I was also writing for Ain't It Cool News. I was still getting over a nasty break-up, just getting back into dating. I had just started to truly enjoy being single when I met my wife-to-be at a party. There was a moment of connection that freaked me out enough that I avoided her for six months. I specifically did not want someone serious in my life. I wanted to just relax and enjoy finally earning a living the way I wanted to, as a writer. Then a friend set up a night out at the movies and invited her along, turning "Amores Perros" into our first date. While it wasn't quite the disaster as a first date I witnessed where a guy brought a girl to see "Ichi The Killer," I still wonder if I should have taken the translated title of "Love's A Bitch" as an omen.
All of that feels like it was a lifetime ago. I started Friday by opening an e-mail to see that a friend had forwarded me this article on divorce from The New York Times. I appreciate the sentiment, but as a start to the day? Rough. It took me a while to even understand what it was that kept hurting me so deeply. There's a line in Sarah Polley's terrific and deeply overlooked film "Take This Waltz," delivered by Seth Rogen's character as he tries to absorb the news that his wife is leaving him. "I thought you were going to be there when I died." There is a grief that I have been feeling for what I thought my life was going to be that has nothing to do with what it actually was. I had a picture in my head of how things were going to be. We had a house. We had our kids. We had this shared future stretching off into how knows how long. My own parents are in their 70s now, still in love, still committed, and when I talk to them, it all seems so easy. I see friends of mine who are starting their journeys together, who are in the early bloom of marriage or who are still searching for some connection, and it gives me solace or hope or some sense that there is still normal in the world. Just not for me. Not right now.
I have opened and closed a half-dozen different files this week trying to find the way into this piece. There's a part of me this year that is bruised and bloodied that considered celebrating the holiday by watching "Shoot The Moon" and "Blue Valentine" on repeat while seeing how fast I can reach the bottom of a bottle of Jameson's. There's a part of me that wanted to just hole up and hide from everyone this week. But there's also a part of me that believes that we are given as many reset buttons in this life as we want. We just have to be strong enough to actually push that button and reset. And there's another part of me that believes that the most important thing I have to do this year is remember that there is more to love than one narrow definition.
So how do I write a Valentine's Day article in a year where I have gone through such a seismic shift in who I am and how I live? How do you write about it once you've gone through the end of a marriage, with all that implies? After you've laid next to someone who you thought you would be with forever and realized that you are lonely on an existential level, it seems terrifying to open yourself back up to anything that has to do with love, and writing about it can feel phony.
Then again, I can't imagine life without it. I would like to be cynical and closed off, but I don't know how to live that way. I never have. That was part of what made the last five years so brutally difficult. In some ways, I feel like I'm just now starting to understand what it is I want from a partner in life. In other ways, I feel like it's pointless to look for one person, one partner, one permanent situation. I'm not sure I believe in permanence… but I hate to think it doesn't exist.
I decided to watch ten movies about love this week. Ten films that approach it in different ways, that reach different conclusions, that celebrate different things. These aren't the ten best movies about love or my ten favorite movies about love. But these ten films were the ones I picked this week to see if I could sort of where I am right now and how I'm feeling, and I'll present them in the order I watched them, since it definitely ended up having a cumulative impact on me. They were my lifeline, my broken-hearted playlist.
And I'll tell you right now… it got rough.