“Harold and Maude” depicts the ultimate May-December romance.
Photo by Courtesy Paramount Pictures
The question "What is love?" is riddled with complexity. Love is intimidating, comforting, scary and overwhelming all at the same time. Love can be the reason for our greatest triumphs, as well as our most crushing defeats. It's hard to put into words exactly what love truly is. Love has shaped some of the greatest events in the history of our existence. So what is love? It depends on whom you ask.
Poets, writers, musicians and filmmakers have been trying to decipher the riddle that is love since the dawn of mankind.
Through cinema, we have shared love's heartbreaks, along with the sometimes improbable or illogical stories of true romance and some of the best examples of non-traditional love. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but one to get you thinking. Sometimes love is hard to understand and it makes you ask questions--but ultimately, it helps you learn more about yourself.
"Harold and Maude" (1971)
Harold Chasen is obsessed with death. So much so that he drives a hearse, likes attending funerals and fakes his death to each of the women his mother tries to set him up with. Then he meets Maude. The 79-year-old breath of fresh air is exactly what Harold needs in his life. She teaches him to seize every moment. Lesson: "A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can."
Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader's take on dominant and submissive roles may be too much for some viewers, but the underlying lesson in the film is that everyone has complementing partners. Sorry, ladies, but I think this is the original Mr. Grey. Lesson: "In one way or another, I've always suffered. I didn't know why exactly. But I do know that I'm not so scared of suffering now. I feel more than I've ever felt, and I've found someone to feel with, to play with, to love in a way that feels right for me. I hope he knows that I can see that he suffers too. And that I want to love him."
"Jeux d'enfants" aka "Love Me If You Dare" (2003)
How much would you suffer before admitting your love for someone? Julien and Sophie begin a childhood game with a constant challenge of one-upmanship that carries on into their adult lives, destroying almost every relationship they've ever had. Unable to share their true feelings for each other without somehow incorporating "the game," they finally are forced to face what they have been avoiding. Is growing up and facing the realities of adulthood always the best decision? Lesson: "A stupid game? Maybe so, but it was our game."
"The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love" (1995)
Randy Dean is failing high school, has only one friend, works at a gas station and is in a relationship with a married woman. Then one day she meets Evie, a girl she would have never talked to at school--but fate has its own set of rules. They couldn't be more different, but love has no "normal" setting. Although this film is about a lesbian relationship, it is no different than any other typical high school romance. Sometimes you fall in love with someone that you never dreamed of meeting. Lesson: "I didn't say I was gay. I said I was in love."