Let’s be honest, everyone loves a happy ending. They provide that warm feeling which fills our hearts when we know that, as Shakespeare once said: all’s well that ends well. The scenario where the credits start rolling after star-crossed lovers finally ride off into the sunset to bask their unconditional happiness has been recreated endlessly throughout the history of cinema, to the point we come to expect — and even root for it. However, when clichés are broken, we may find ourselves sitting in fetal position repeatedly questioning: how could they not end up together?
Hollywood treasures, such as Casablanca and Titanic, are notorious for their bittersweet endings, oftentimes leaving audiences teary eyed or — in my particular case — completely distraught. These kinds of films will take our hearts out, step on them repeatedly until some of us decide, altogether, that true love doesn’t exist. We may cease to acknowledge, nonetheless, that most of them have a realistic portrait of romance and can teach us a lot about the nuances of love.
LA LA LAND
Being the #1 La La Land warrior that I am, I could never neglect an opportunity to talk about this masterpiece. Set in Los Angeles, La La Land tells the story of aspiring actress Mia Dolan and struggling pianist Sebastian Wilder developing a relationship that surpasses their various differences. Both are inevitably disappointed by the pursuit of their dreams, but Mia and Sebastian find trust and support with each other, building a relationship that helps them learn more about themselves in the process.
Sebastian wanted to provide a better life for him and Mia, which lead to choosing a job he keenly despised in order to make money. The physical distance between them just added a gap within the relationship, as Mia knew Sebastian well enough to realize the path he was in wouldn’t help to fulfill his dream. Also, he wasn’t as supportive and present as before, which lead to their big fallout. Nonetheless, even though they were separated, Sebastian went after Mia to let her know about a casting call, and made her audition for the role regardless of her protests. The personal growth that Mia and Sebastian contributed to each other was necessary in order for them to become who they always wanted to be.
Both Mia and Sebastian eventually reached their goals and found success, but none of it would’ve been possible without each other. Mia made Sebastian realize that pursuing a more mainstream career path that he didn’t enjoy would never make him happy and Sebastian stopped Mia from giving up, dragging her to audition for a role that turned out to be her breakthrough as an actress. Their evolution cost their relationship, and they part on well enough terms, understanding that life reserved opposite paths for them. Still, once they see each other after decades and Damien Chazelle hits us with that ending montage, the weight of Mia’s final words to Sebastian becomes clear: I’m always gonna love you.
At the risk of sounding biased over my love for Rachel Weisz, Disobedience remains a personal favorite. Adapted from Naomi Alderman’s novel and brought to screen by Sebastían Lelio, the plot takes place in an orthodox Jewish community in North London where Ronit (Rachel Weisz), daughter of the Rav, returns to attend her father’s funeral after several years of exile and is inevitably reunited with her former lover Esti (Rachel McAdams) now married to the Rav’s apprentice Dovid (Alessandro Nivola).
The love story unfolds within a week, as Ronit and Esti are drawn back together and struggle with their circumstances. Esti is a lesbian who feels trapped inside her marriage out of a sense of duty, struggling to discover her own identity — Ronit’s presence fuels her desire for freedom. Eventually, Esti finds out she is pregnant and decides to leave both Dovid and the community behind to discover herself. Ronit then makes a proposal for Esti to go and be with her in New York, which she doesn’t reply to. They have a heartbreaking goodbye the next morning as Esti runs after Ronit’s cab to give her a last kiss, Ronit tells Esti she loves her and asks that she keeps in touch.
As much as Disobedience’s ending makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry — which I did — it made perfect sense for the story. It would’ve been easy for Esti to give it all up to be with Ronit, but still wouldn’t help to discover her own path, especially with a baby. Even if she did offer, I don’t think Ronit was ready for it either, she valued her carefree independence too much to hastily commit to something of that extent. It was a mature decision from both of them to let it go and work on themselves, managing the weight of their own expectations and griefs in order to choose freedom. Nonetheless, in my vivid imagination, I’d like to believe they end up rekindling their relationship after decades to get married and raise several children.
500 DAYS OF SUMMER
Chances are most people who are even a bit into movies have already seen 500 Days of Summer at least once, so I’ll spare you the intro and get down to business. When I first watched the ending, as a young and impressionable teenager, my thoughts were the usual of a casual watcher: Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is a bitch and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) deserves better. Thankfully, I matured, and perhaps 2 or 3 re-watches later broke free from that state of consciousness to realize that this great movie is mostly hyped for the wrong reasons. Tom idealizes Summer right off the bat because she liked the same music as he did. Indeed, both have much in common — as it is shown throughout the film — and get along pretty well, but they have intrinsically different views on love.
Furthermore, there’s just a tiny (huge) problem Tom doesn’t grasp until it’s too late: Summer didn’t want a relationship with him, yet nonetheless gave it a shot. When she eventually dumps him, Tom gets heartbroken and spirals into a depression. As the movie progresses from Tom’s point of view, we get to see him constantly analyzing the past and trying to rationalize what went wrong because, in his mind, Summer was his soulmate and they were meant to be. This becomes clear once they meet again after the breakup, eventually catching up and having a nice time only for Tom to get disappointed when Summer again wants nothing but his friendship.
On their last encounter, Summer is now married and Tom doesn’t understand how that’s possible, considering she never committed to him and is suddenly “somebody’s wife”, as he puts it. Summer explains that she didn’t plan this, it simply happened, and tells Tom he was right all along: true love does exist, it just wasn’t meant for them. What 500 Days of Summer teaches us is actually quite simple: they’re just not that into you, and that’s okay. It’s brutally honest and an incredible portrait on real relationships. Down the road, you may find another person who actually loves you as much as you love them — or not — and that’s okay too. Sometimes we’re Summer, sometimes we’re Tom, and the beauty within relationships relies on finding out.
Yet another gem from the Ryan Gosling Cinematic Universe, the title itself warns us this drama isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows. Blue Valentine follows a young couple as they navigate through different stages of their life together, with the story going back and forth between events that transpired throughout the relationship from start to finish. Cindy (Michelle Williams) starts as an ambitious girl trying to juggle her responsibilities and aspirations, while Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a high school dropout with a rough childhood.
Within the current timeline, when the marriage is hanging by a thread, we see Dean constantly trying to seduce Cindy and gain back the spark of their relationship with little success. Cindy is overwhelmed by her situation and Dean doesn’t have any plans for the future, which further upsets Cindy, as she feels he should be out there doing something with this life. The tipping point for Cindy is when he appears drunk at her workplace, engages into an argument and fights with her boss, which ends up getting her fired. In one heartbreaking scene, Dean throws his wedding ring away — only to regret it a minute later — and tries to look for it but now it’s too late, the ring is gone and so is the marriage.
The bitter truth is that Cindy didn’t love Dean anymore, and there’s nothing any of them could do that would change the fact. Their marriage is worn out beyond repair, and being with each other for the family’s sake would just make them more miserable. They weren’t doing any favors for their daughter or themselves by remaining together, only destroying any shred of happiness within the household. What we can take from Blue Valentine is that feelings do change, time and shared experiences modify relationships to the point of no return — as much as we wish that wasn’t the case.
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
Wong Kar-Wai’s finest work, In the Mood for Love, transcends the romance genre into a quiet thunderstorm of feelings. Set in Hong Kong, two next-door neighbors find themselves drawn to each other after finding out both of their spouses are having an affair together. The story takes mutual pining to the next level, considering neither Su (Maggie Cheung) nor Chow (Tony Leung) act upon their feelings, silently acknowledging that it’s a platonic relationship. As time goes by, and they grow closer, the reality that they’re in love becomes subtle but daunting.
Chow gets a job offer at Singapore and asks Su to go with him, waiting for her at their hotel room — Su shows up too late. A year goes by, Su flies to Singapore, goes to Chow’s apartment and calls his workplace — he answers it but the line stays silent. Years later, Chow finds himself visiting his old apartment, he asks about the previous landlord and discovers a woman now lives there with her son — he doesn’t realize the woman is Sue. In the Mood for Love is filled with missed opportunities and coincidence, haunting the audience and the protagonists with unanswered questions.
Both Su and Chow were set not to repeat their spouses mistakes, therefore it’s understandable they wouldn’t have a relationship while both were still married. However, the passage of time lets us know when that’s no longer the case and, at this point, it seems like they take one step forward and two steps back, reaching out only to pull away once it’s within a grasp. It sets a powerful message on the importance of taking risks: we don’t know if they’d work out or not, but the could-have-beens followed both for years, blocking them from getting over each other. At the ending, Chow fulfills an old tale and whispers his secret into a hollow at the ruins of Cambodia, before covering it with mud. We can only imagine if his untold relationship with Su had anything to do with it.