So, romances aren’t really my thing. There’s usually too much emphasis on a successful career woman on a mission to complete her life by finding “Mr. Right”, followed by a shallow and demeaning storyline that leads to the inevitable oppression of woman-kind. These movies usually involve Jennifer Lopez in some way. There are very few movies that I find legitimately romantic and as a result I very often find romance in the midst of some incredibly unromantic movies. Here are a few unconventionally romantic movies to look for when searching for this year’s Valentine’s Day movies.
6. Duel in the Sun (1946)
This early western features brothers (played by Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten) and the “half-breed” woman they both love. Oddly enough, Peck plays the bad brother, while Cotten plays the good brother. While she is drawn to both men, the woman’s heritage is predictably problematic. In the end, the good brother ends up married to a nice white woman, while the bad brother and the betrayed woman shoot it out in the desert – ultimately dealing each other fatal wounds and dying in each other’s arms. While the love triangle is compelling, it is the twisted and sexy relationship between Gregory Peck’s Lewt and Jennifer Jones’ Pearl that really heats things up. There is something deeply romantic about the intense passion with which they love each other, but it’s also somehow appealingly ironic that they both fall victim to that passion only to reconcile in their final moments.
5. Carrington (1995)
This is the story of the relationship between the painter Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) and the writer Lytton Stratchey (Jonathan Pryce). While the relationship remained platonic for the entirety of their acquaintance, mostly due to Stratchey’s homosexuality, they shared a deep and lasting friendship. The film chronicles their lives together, Carrington’s passionate love for Stratchey, and their dedication to each other. It is bittersweet to see their absolute adoration of each other and everything that they go through together, feeling that they belong together forever, but knowing that it can’t be.
4. 3 (2010)
This German movie focuses on a couple who happen to be cheating on each other with the same man. The couple in question aren’t unhappy and seem to genuinely love each other, but the affair is just something they fall into. When it is revealed that they are both seeing the same man, there’s really only one conclusion that can be reached, and that’s to bring him into the relationship. It’s certainly not the first solution that most people might think of – or perhaps it is, except that the convention of monogamy is so deeply ingrained that most people don’t consider it a viable option – but there’s something intensely romantic and sensual about being able to share your love with two people who love you and also love each other. It’s really just generally lovely.
3. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
One of the things that really makes this movie is the pitiable sweetness and innocence that Johnny Depp’s Edward conveys. We know from minute one that he loves Kim (Winona Rider), and his steady, unquestioning dedication to her in the face of rejection and manipulation is heartbreaking. We rejoice when Kim finally comes around and asks Edward to hold her, but die a little inside when we see his desperate desire to comply accompanied by the pained reply “I can’t”. As much as he wants to love her, he’s afraid he might hurt her. And that’s something that you don’t often see in romances – pure, innocent, untarnished, and unselfish love. Edward is untouched by the outside world, so his love for Kim is as genuine as it gets.
2. The General (1926)
Buster Keaton was an incredibly practical man, so the kind of romance in his films tended to more subtle and sharply ironic than the heart-stomping pathos seen in Charlie Chaplin’s films. But therein lies the charm, because we can relate more easily to the humor and the everyday moments that love brings than we can to the drama and the grand sweeping gestures. The General is just as much about a man’s love for a woman as it is about his love for his train. Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is an engineer who’s train is stolen by Northern spies during the Civil War. Incidentally, his love interest is kidnapped in the process, so when Johnnie goes to extremes to reclaim his train and rescues his girlfriend along the way, the irony isn’t lost on him that she thinks he braved the enemy just to save her. The movie is filled with little moments of humor and tenderness between them. One particularly memorable moment is when she does something frustratingly unhelpful in the midst of dangerous action and he begins to comedically strangle her, only to start kissing her mid-way through. What drives him crazy about her is also what he loves about her – and who can’t relate to that?
1. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, but bear with me here. Hannibal Lecter is probably not the best choice of boyfriends, but you probably couldn’t ask for one any smarter or classier. There’s a lot that goes into the relationship between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter that makes it a romance of sorts. It is the ultimate meeting of minds, a palpable connection between two people who are constantly physically separated by barriers. The one moment when they just barely touch hands is pretty spine tingling for a lot of reasons, but we can feel the electricity as it happens. Not only is there something compelling about such an intensely cerebral connection, there is that element of “forbidden love” that accompanies that connection. And I’m not being crazy here either – Thomas Harris’ novel sequel “Hannibal” ends with Hannibal and Clarice running away together (okay, its more like he ran away with her and kept her confined until a course of drugs brainwashed her into staying with him, but still…).