Monday, February 15, 2010

Sometimes when you least expect it . . . Love Happens

A few days ago I was standing in front of a redbox® DVD rental machine scanning the titles of new releases and with Valentine’s Day looming on the horizon I was hoping to find a movie that promised romance—a chick flick. Love Happens appeared as if it might suffice and I went for the bait . . . hook, line, and sinker. The next day, after I returned the rented copy to its redbox® machine, I stopped on my way home to purchase a copy of this movie. And now that I’ve watched it multiple times and understand the repercussions, I suspect there was something more than a special date on the calendar that influenced my selection.

The cover for the movie includes a quote from Dan Kois of The Washington Post who describes it as “A Rare Hollywood Romance.” But Love Happens isn’t a romantic movie according to 21st century expectations. In literature, the genre called “romance” is rooted in the 12th century tales of Chrétien de Troyes which were written for a secular audience and often incorporated a deeper, underlying message. Love Happens is a true “medieval romance” specially conjured for today’s audience. As I watched it, I saw the layers of the story open up as if it were a rose in bloom.

I was wrong . . . in the same way that Robert Langdon was wrong when he went to Temple Church in search of a knight interred by "a pope.” Actually, Langdon wasn’t wrong . . . he was just early. All along I've been thinking that the Holy Bible is part of the five-book gemstone that brings the medieval tale to life. But it isn’t; it's the other way around. Looking back upon the legend of the map to the grail as a guide, which consists of five imaginary stories connected by details and woven with threads belonging to real life . . . Love Happens represents the fifth “book” even though the movie isn’t derived from a novel. Like the fifth letter in Burke's name, the movie captures something that represents a silent portion of the original tale.

The working title of the script written by Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson was Brand New Day before they changed it to Love Happens . . . kind of like how John Steinbeck changed the name of his book from Something that Happened to Of Mice and Men. And as Forrest Gump might say, "shit happens" in the story that amazingly transforms into love happening.

Aaron Eckhart plays the leading man, Dr. Burke Ryan, a psychologist and self-help author who arrives in Seattle to teach a seminar on overcoming grief. Jennifer Aniston plays the leading lady, a woman fed up with a cheating boyfriend who also happens to own the florist shop— Eloise's Garden—that services the hotel where Burke is staying for one week. Aniston portrays Eloise . . . but beneath the name, the details that make Eloise who she is belong entirely to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

In the opening scene of Love Happens, the camera swoops in on a pair of hands that are busy with the task of slicing lemons. Burke begins to narrate the book he wrote: “Chapter one: Sometimes, despite your best efforts otherwise, life gives you lemons. When that happens friend, you can wear a sour face . . . or make lemonade.”

Burke makes his lemonade with Grey Goose Vodka—distilled and bottled in France—which takes on greater meaning when we learn that his wife made him promise that in the event something happened, he would release Rocky, her pet parrot (white cockatiel), into the wild. When he finally admits that he had failed to accomplish this, Eloise suggests he can take care of “two birds with one stone.” And yes, she was referring to something else. Together, they transport the parrot in the back of an old Ford Falcon van and venture into a forest of majestic trees that has a river winding through it.

Symbolically you might say that the white falcon that swooped in and struck a goose, leaving three drops of blood on the snow in The Story of the Grail has reappeared . . . and is finally talking. On a more personal level, Burke's release of the parrot is symbolic of letting go of his wife. And reaching back in time to another life in reality, the wife was the one who lovingly repeated her husband's words and wanted all the world to hear them.

Burke has issues concerning riding in elevators just like Robert Langdon. He chooses a red tie for his kick-off presentation . . . which he begins with a story about a college football team that wins a national championship, straight out of Forrest Gump. He is the author of a best-selling book, A Path Through Grief, that's intended to help the audience take control of their lives and begin living life with meaning and purpose, as does The Story of the Grail. He's promoting his book with the tagline “A-Okay!” and prompts the audience to respond that they are "A-Okay!” . . . just like William Vance describes himself in his final appearance in The Last Templar.

Burke literally crashes into Eloise as he’s walking down the hall while not watching where he's going. He finds a pen on the floor and discovers that she has a quirky habit of writing strange words on the wall behind paintings in the hotel. He takes a white rose bud from one of her floral arrangements and puts it in the lapel of his suit, only to be called out for it when she follows him into the men’s room and they have their first confrontation. Later, Burke submits an order through Marty, a helper at Eloise's Garden, for a bouquet of white roses. The message that is relayed suggests that Eloise will know where the flowers need to be delivered.

Roses have different meanings depending on their color. A white rosebud speaks of youthful ignorance and innocence, an age that is immature or new to the ways of the world. To correlate it to a season in life, the rosebud signifies springtime.

A white rose symbolizes sincerity of intentions, purity in purpose, and affection that comes straight from the heart—as free of blemishes as virgin snow. White roses are called the "flower of light" and represent everlasting love that is stronger than death; they suggest an eternal love that is undying and all sustaining. “White rose speaks of love that is sustained more by loyalty, reverence, and humility than by red-blooded passion. In the 'language of the flowers’ a bouquet of white roses says ‘I am worthy of you,’” as a bride stands before her groom.

"The most famous meanings of the white rose arise from mythology. Many of these surround Aphrodite (Venus), the Goddess of Love, who sprang forth into life from the foaming sea, and where the foam fell to the ground, white roses grew. "(Source:

The "three suits" from Unicom that are coming to town are symbolically tied to the unicorn which in medieval times, as you might expect, carried multiple meanings ranging from the Incarnation of Christ to the lover attracted to his lady like the unicorn is attracted to a virgin. Lady lore would tell you that the unicorn could only be captured if it was first lured by a virgin, at whose feet it would fall asleep. In The Da Vinci Code Teabing refers to Sophie as a virgin and later says, "And codes? I imagine they lie down for you like lovers," in an unspoken allusion to the single-horned beast.

Burke misses an important business meeting when he opts to join Eloise and her friends at the local coffee house where Marty participates in a poetry slam, mixing iambic pentameter with a little haiku.

Lane Marshall is Burke's business manager and follows a trail of clues to find him. Actually, he admits it was pretty simple; he inquired of the concierge whom Burke had asked directions from . . . just like Perceval asks for directions to the holy hermit and is told to follow the sticks and branches knotted and tied that mark the way.

Lane: So, who are these fine folks that you’re consorting with?
Burke: Just people I’ve met.
Lane: Yeah?
Burke: Her name’s Eloise.
Lane: Well, what hath struck the earth? Details.

Lane Marshall is a composite of the real life knight named William Marshal and one of Chrétien de Troyes’ imaginary characters named Lancelot, who was himself a composite of William Marshal and Abelard. In another time and in another story, Lancelot secretly shared an adulterous love with the queen and went in search of her when she was kidnapped in the forest and stolen away. It was an imaginary tale woven with threads of details belonging to an event that happened to Eleanor of Aquitaine in real life. In the course of the tale The Knight of the Cart, Lancelot loses his horse and is forced to ride in a cart which, in the 12th century, was a mode of transportation typically reserved for criminals. He hesitates . . . and somehow the queen knows that for a fleeting moment he considered his reputation over his love for her.

In Love Happens, Eloise arranges for Burke to enjoy a special ride in a cart which lifts them above the fray and becomes the first step in their budding relationship.

Traces of William Marshal also appear in Walter's circumstances. Walter is a contractor—a carpenter—whose sister asked him to attend the seminar because the grief and guilt he carries concerning his son's death. Walter's son is named Stephen.

In reality, William Marshal's father was the hereditary keeper of the horses for the Anglo-Norman kings, but he switched his allegiance and negotiated alliances to gain personal power. In the midst of a conflict, John fitz Gilbert gave his young son, William Marshal, as a hostage to King Stephen but then he broke his promise and told the king he could do whatever he wanted with the child because he "had a hammer and anvils to make more and better sons."

Within Love Happens, Walter's healing comes in the aisles of Home Depot where he is seen swinging a hammer and gathering tools to take up his life exactly where he left off living it.

Looking back, William Marshal grew up to become one of the greatest knights of the 12th century, known for his prowess, strength, and agility in tournaments and war and was equally famous for being a man of his word. Not only are details belonging to him woven into multiple characters in this modern day story, in the older tales he could be seen in both Lancelot and Gawain in The Story of the Grail, who takes his seat to the right of the king.

William Marshal promised the Templars that he would end his days amongst them and be buried in a Templar House. He officially joined the Order on his death bed and was buried at Temple Church; Robert Langdon came upon his effigy when he went there looking for the knight interred.

In Love Happens, when Burke Ryan's right-hand man calls himself "Lane goddamned Marshall," he means it in a good way.

Dr. Burke Ryan is one complicated soul. His father-in-law calls him a hypocrite. He's the modern day incarnation of Abelard, who in real life preached that every human being should be free to utilize their mind and make their own decisions and yet bowed down to the weight of the Church, crushing the love he shared with Heloise. In the movie, Burke Ryan doesn't appear to "walk his talk" as far as overcoming guilt and grief. But the reality of his living nightmare is that when he avoided hitting a dog in the road, he unintentionally killed his wife instead . . . crushing her as the car spun out of control.

From a different vantage point Burke is also very much like the youth at the Fisher King’s manor house who, in a mystical magical moment represents both the Father and the Son. He is the Christ like figure that Myshkin portrays in The Idiot and he is like the narrator that John Steinbeck was moved to emulate with the title Of Mice and Men, who regrets having destroyed the home of a mouse while plowing the field. In Love Happens, when Burke returns from setting the parrot free, Lane encounters him in the hotel lobby:

"It's about time." "Oh, my God! Where the hell have you been?"
"I mean, Jesus, you have got to . . . "
"Jesus. What the hell happened to you, man?"

Love Happens ends with Burke and Eloise on the cusp of a romantic relationship more in line with 21st century expectations. They finally kiss. But by the time this happened, I wasn't visualizing Burke and Eloise, I was seeing Abelard and Eleanor embarking on a relationship they never "lived" in reality despite the interwoven details of their lives . . . the imprint of destiny.

In The Story of the Grail, real life details from Eleanor of Aquitaine's and Peter Abelard's final public appearances are woven into the same moment of the final scene in the imaginary tale—even though their respective final public appearances happened more than 60 years apart. In the 12th century they symbolically made their grand exit together. And how it might all play out in the 21st century is given to anyone's imagination.

With a visual that allows us to look across the city landscape from an elevation higher than street level, the narrator's voice returns: “Chapter 15. During your travels, when one thing ends, something else begins.”

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