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Hollywood disaster movies save marriages!

March 21, 2011

How bad does it have to get before things will change?

Just when you thought this couple were at each others’ throats for the last time, and divorce was imminent, a disaster strikes, and the marriage is saved!

I figure a terrible disaster is what it takes to save a marriage these days. Have you noticed that it’s a theme in movies for a marriage to be on the skids, but after much hardship and travail, the two squabbling, cawing lovebirds are ultimately reunited after all hell breaks loose?

Think about it; this happens quite a bit, and it points to some disturbing trends in how we view marriage, and the immense natural forces it takes to save a marriage from impending divorce.

In the old days, movies with squabbling couples were cute, because the squabbling married couple squabbled because everyone knows all married couples squabble. Or, the couple was unmarried, and the squabbling indicated that the two really liked each other and, perversely, should get married, since everyone knows squabbling means you really like each other.

Squabbling is often mistaken for flirting, when in fact, it’s actually a sign that you irritate the living bajesus out of each other, a reality Hollywood is in cahoots with the government to downplay.

They didn’t get along all that well, really

So squabbling couples have a history of being poorly understood, and therefore misrepresented, by Hollywood.

However, in fairness to the guys who ran the studios, when Myrna Loy and William Powell squabbled in the Thin Man series in the ’30s while solving mysteries, or Hepburn and Tracy (lovers in real life) squabbled but stayed together through fights on golf courses, everyone left the theatre reassured that their marriage would survive.

Squabbling in the old days was much more refined

That, however, was the 30s and 40s, and things have changed. Nowadays, you enter the dim, cool, theatre, only to find that postmodern couples have already split up and are seconds away from signing divorce papers. Right away you know not to place much hope or faith in this marriage working out. So from the get-go, you’re already depressed. How to pull out of the nosedive landing they’ve doomed their audience to, Hollywood moguls ponder on their yachts, as they deep-sea sword-fish off Baja?

I know! What wreaks more havoc than a divorcing couple, and is even more compelling? A natural disaster of epic proportions! That will divert these squabbling couples from their self-induced angst, forcing them to confront their buried love for each other, while they run from hurricane strength winds and ginormous fissures in the earth’s crust.

The fragility of nature is a fitting backdrop for their broken marriage, the turbulence of emotion reflected in the tempest surrounding them as they put their heads together, coerced by the vagaries of the elements to talk about How to Fix This Thing. It’s all a metaphor, of course. Cracks in the earth’s surface, gale-force winds, giant waves crashing into skyscrapers, are all visual images describing the inner turmoil of the divorcing couple. It’s very poetic.

The audience watches the emotionally unintelligent pair stumble through scene after scene, rediscovering each other’s good points, but still pissed off about some argument they’ve been carrying around with them for years.

In Twister, Bill Paxton‘s character (eponymous ‘Bill’) shouts to his other half, played by Helen Hunt, “What’s it going to take to get you to talk to me?” while tree limbs crash around them and they pretend not to be in love with each other.

Cows fly through the sky, driving rain slews sideways, and yet this divorcing couple squabbles about their petty differences, how he wanted a house and she wanted a career. If I recall correctly, I believe it takes one of them getting hit hard on the head before they realise, oh wait, our marriage is at stake and I actually still need you, and then they come to their senses and start pulling together to save others trapped in the rubble of Fujita Scale Force Five tornadoes.

In Hollywood, two squabbling people who both perform selfless acts to save lives are rewarded and get their marriage back. If this were a tragedy, only one person would perform a selfless act, and would then have to die, like Leo and Rose in Titanic. Think about it. It’s a formula. One selfless person + one selfish person who doesn’t transform = tragedy. Two selfish people transformed = a happy ending.

Reunited through disaster

2012 carries a similar message of what happens to self-absorbed narcissistic-types who squabble more than they help one another, except in this marriage-that’s-heading-for-divorce, the selfless moment occurs when the two offer to die so that their children might live.

Immediately, you hear that Hollywood “ka-ching!” cause that’s the magic moment of catharsis Aristotle told you to wait for. In every good story, selfish squabbling couples who Learn Their Lesson and are willing to sacrifice something have a happy ending.

We all know a happy ending means the god-given right to stay together, squabbling contentedly, into perpetuity. If you’d watched the Myrna Loy-William Powell movies more carefully, and squabbled the right way, you wouldn’t be in this pickle that Hollywood has to fix by finding you a natural disaster, now would you?

You know those marriages where you say to your spouse, “It would take a miracle to keep those two together”? Look no further: there’s your miracle. The end of the world, forces beyond your control, anything that will impel the two to grow up and stop thinking about their own needs for five minutes, and start being considerate of the other person. Natural disasters, Hollywood-style, is what it takes to remind us of skills we’ve apparently forgotten in the intervening years between the 1930s and now.

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