TAKE NOTES: A MOVIE THAT GETS IT ALL WRONG
I want to nominate the film, “The Notebook”, for the creative work which most advances the illness of codependency this year. If ever there were an enabler, this film is the one. Not only does the film bore an astute watcher to tears because its characters are unbearably and unwaveringly sickly sweet (i.e. unreal), but it advances an unhealthy and unattainable view of the marriage relationship. I feel so certain in my judgment of the film that I tell friends they should see the film. If they like the film, they are probably codependent or have a codependent’s outlook on life and love. If they hate it, they are probably pretty good relationship material.
First, note the principles who put the film together and acknowledge the overarching influence of a dead man on their creation. Think John Cassavetes, the brilliant but troubled director and actor whose directorial roots trace back to the beatnik films of the 50s. In 1960 he directed the experimental film, “Shadows”. Cassavetes lived and died the life of the alcoholic.
John’s son, Nick Cassavetes directed “The Notebook”. John and Gena Rowlands created Nick. Gena also stars in “The Notebook”. With two members of the same alcoholic’s family in key rolls, you gotta think, “codependent tendencies”. Not only that, James Woods and James Garner costarred in a film whose name escapes me which was an autobiography of the two founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, so I gotta think that Garner is in that same bottle somewhere. I couldn’t find their film in the “2002 Videohound’s Golden Movie Retriever”. I think that’s because the film was not a paid endeavor by the two men, and they didn’t want to get any personal gain out of it.
Why is “The Notebook” the story of a codependent relationship? Let me count the ways. The film opens with a couple who are residents of a nursing home. The woman (Gena) suffers from old age dementia. She can’t recall who her children are nor her husband. Her husband, of course, is James Garner, but we aren’t told this right away, though it’s obvious immediately. Every day Garner reads to Gena from a notebook which contains a story about young lovers; he’s obsessed with calling her back to him from her dementia. Eventually, she does remember that their story is the story in the book. Then they both die. Their tear-jerking death is artistic manipulation to the max—which is another characteristic of the addicted personalities who made the film.
The film is death obsessed. Most of the film is flashbacks to the old couple’s youthful love. Not only does the film end in their tear-producing joint death, but on one of their first dates, the young man lies down in the street at two in the morning and dares his date to do likewise, teasing death. In order to force the young woman to go out on a date with him, the young man hangs from a ferris wheel, interrupting her in the middle of her date with another, and threatens to let himself drop to his death if she won’t go out with him. This stunt climaxed weeks of hounding her for a date. Also in the film, almost as an aside, WWII is dragged in, during which the young man’s best friend dies in combat. Then, he’s forgotten. That death is gratis.
Another sign of codependency is the way the young man fixates on the girl the first time he lays eyes on her. He can’t get her out of his mind, and he won’t leave her alone. He harasses her. Definite signs of a budding codependent relationship are love at first sight and compulsive pursuit of the love object.
The most glaring sign of the young man’s alcoholic, codependent nature is a line he gives the girl early on. “Tell me what you want me to be. I’ll be anything you want.” A core sign of a sick relationship is that one or both will give up themselves, their lives and ambitions and their very personalities in order to please the other.
In another compulsive act, the young man, after the war and after losing his girl due to parental interference, rebuilds an antebellum southern mansion that he visited with the girl when they were first dating. They nearly had sex there. Almost as an afterthought, the girl tells him she’d like a porch to go all around that relic of slave days. (Now isn’t that interesting—slave days and codependency and the still sick, southern culture which influences George, dry drunk, Bush!) The young veteran puts her porch around his old mansion even though the girl is out of his life and, in a city far away, planning a wedding to another young and unbearably sweet dude.
Strip away all the story line, its cutesy schmaltz, that John’s son, Nick, covers the empty characters with, and you get the picture of a desperate, lonely, willing to do anything to be loved, young man, an alcoholic looking for an enabler to put his life together for him. The characters are as empty of love as the lives of real codependents are. I can almost imagine Gena having a lot to do with putting the film together, hoping to prove to herself at last that John, the now deceased drunk, really did love her by reinterpreting their life together in this insane and obnoxious film which makes no sense to anyone with the least bit of wits about them. Any sane person will tell you that an obsessed man like the young man in the film, and the old man too, is more likely to desperately stalk you, harass and kill you when you try to leave him than to be in love with you. If this film does too well at the box office, I see one more sign that the sick Fifties are back.
"The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country." —George Bush
(Thanks, George. We didn't know that.)