[14 February 2012]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Love is in the air, as mandated by Madison Avenue, various greeting card manufacturers, and endless couples’ arguments. Yes, it’s that time of year again, time to celebrate a faux holiday originally created to honor a Catholic Saint, but was then later removed from the official Vatican calendar around 1969. Still, with untold dozens of roses to be bought and metric tons of candy and other confections to be divvied up, Valentine’s Day will not go gentle into that good night. As irrelevant as it remains—after all, why demand a day for affection and romance (shouldn’t that be a year-round thing?)—it still seems to make many a hellbound heart skip that intangible beat. For those without a significant other, or the desire to spend their hard earned money on commercially coerced emotion, 14 February can suck hard cheese. Perhaps that’s why true feelings are so mysterious… without a corporation telling you what to believe, sentiment has become stagnant over the decades.
Don’t worry, we are here to help. Instead of sitting around lamenting the fact that a media made love life seems to be passing you buy, check out our 10 Greatest Alternative Cinematic Valentines, movies that will make your lack of chalky candy nibbles and overpriced foliage festooned with baby’s breath a bit more bearable. For many, these films will appear like sacrilege, purposefully mean without truly understanding the need for Valentines. For most of us, however, they represent the real reason for hating the season. In Annie Hall, Woody Allen had an elderly woman utter the most brilliant line of dialogue ever to describe the fate of romance: “love fades”. Indeed… and these motion picture reminders are what happens when it does. From murder and mayhem to misery and melancholy, all forced celebrations can be wrapped up in these Decalogue for the desperate, dateless, and depressed.
Hell—and the homage heavy motion picture landscape—apparently hath no fury like a woman scorned… or in this case, beaten and brutalized to an inch of her life and her unborn baby’s life. When the sword wielding assassin known as “The Bride” comes out of her four year coma (under the heavy breathing of a potential hospital molester), she has just one goal in mind: REVENGE! Unaware that her child actually survived the attempted murder, she makes a beeline to the title character, slaughtering anyone that gets in her way. A good lesson for anyone thinking about leaving their betrothed (dead) at the altar.
Some have suggested that Peter Greenaway’s masterpiece of modern melancholy is really nothing more than a coarse political allegory disguised as a sleazy sex drama, but there is more here than amazing Jean-Paul Gautier costumes, abundant nudity, and creepy cannibalism. Indeed, buried beneath the title mobster’s rants, his disrespect of women, and his gourmand gluttony, is the tale of a beautiful, fragile woman trapped in a destructive marriage—and the man who tries to save her from same. Yes, it all ends dreadfully, but along the way, we learn some sickening lessons about food, domination, and individual evil.
Love him or hate him, but Sam Mendes has got soiled suburban angst and ennui down pat. For the first of his two entries on this list, we revisit the 1999 Oscar winner which showed how modern male menopause can turn into something both celebratory and sad. Kevin Spacey’s disgruntled dad might think he is sewing the last of his drying wild oats, but in truth, nothing can save him from destroying himself and his family. Lusting after his daughter’s teenage friend is one thing. Showing maturity and compassion where cruelty is, perhaps, better suited ends up being his unkind comeuppance.
While the bottom down dad as secretive pedophile angle got all the attention (and why not—movies don’t often feature characters masturbating to a copy of Tiger Beat magazine), the hollow heart of this movie follows the depressing misadventures of three sisters, each so unlucky in love that their existence should be an educational example of anyone considering companionship. Even their parents can’t find the title emotion. Instead, they decide to slowly drift apart. Here’s how poisonous the Maplewood gals are. After a date with desperate Joy, one sullen suitor goes off and kills himself. Ouch!
Loss is at the center of Lars Von Trier’s remarkable, controversial look at gender politics and man/woman wanting. While having sex in the shower, a couple are unaware that their child is headed for the open window of their high rise apartment. One horrific accident later, and the pair are off in the woods seeking healing. Instead, they tap into some surreal psychological miscalculations, the results of which turn their retreat into a weekend of terror. While many believe the movie’s motives to be misogynistic, the truth is that it is one of the most painful portraits of how partners split ever conceived.
As the ultimate example of lonely hearts gone haywire, Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco portray Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, a perverse pair who answered ads from melancholy singles. Once hooked, they would seduce and swindle them. Eventually, murder became part of the mix. Filmed in gritty black and white and not afraid to infer all manner of nasty business, Leonard Kastle’s ‘exploitation’ film is really a true life character study with sleaze added. The results remind us all that fools in love will do funny things… funny, fatal things indeed.
Want to know what your neighbors are arguing about while you’re snuggled up in front of the television watching The Cooking Channel? Check out Sam Mendes second entry on this list to learn how real husbands and wives argue. There’s no pussyfooting around here. Frank and April Wheeler (Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) sink into a kind of rage normally unseen on movie screens, turning each minor marital squabble into a horrifying battle royale. In fact, this film may be hard for some to watch. Listening closely to these verbal sparring matches, the sentiments often hit way too close to home.
Naturally we have to include this. When the slasher film was making waves in the early ‘80s, holidays and events became the favorite fright film catalyst. Seems no serial killer could manufacture fear without a date on the calendar to motivate him. For this Canadian novelty, the Hallmark festival of love became a murder sticking point. Gory hijinx ensued. While the remake does a decent job of paying 3D homage to its predecessors (as well as offering one of the few full frontal female chase scenes ever filmed), this is the antidote to all the hearts and flowers nonsense.
One of the most brilliant black comedies ever created, director Danny Devito invited his Romancing the Stone buddies (Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas) to portray the ultimate battling marrieds. They ended up making movie magic. After a whirlwind romance and a picture perfect wedding, Oliver and Barbara Rose begin to fall out of love with each other. Then indifference turns to hate. By the time of their bitter divorce, they are investigating more and more devious ways to destroy the other—physically, psychologically, and emotionally. The end remains one of the best metaphors to the true end of a marriage ever put on film.
Want to get over your recent break-up? Have an ex who just won’t go away (either on Facebook, Twitter, or the window beneath your bedroom). In this gem from director Michel Gondry and uber geek screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, all one needs is a visit to the memory erasing company, Lacuna Inc., and a session with their patented brain wiping procedure. As the destined lovers destroyed by the interference of technology, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet give career-making performances. But it’s the ideas here that are far more frightening. Breaking up should be hard to do—not just part of some simple non-surgical procedure.