After an unintended and very long break from the blog, I’m planning to put up a summary of my thoughts from the films I helped folk at Northumbria University engage with a few weeks ago. The first one is the schmultzy romance, The Notebook.
What people love about The Notebook is the relationship that grows between the central characters, Noah and Allie. The tag-line of the film is ‘behind every great love is a great story.’ The Notebook tracks Noah and Allie’s story – from when Noah persuades Allie to go out to him, through different twists and turns, leading to Allie’s decision not to marry her rich suitor Lon but to marry Noah instead. Noah and Allie are not only sexually attracted to each other; they find soul mates in each other.
That love continues into the couple’s old age, as the clip shows. Allie develops dementia. She can only remember who Noah is on the odd occasion. And yet Noah’s love for Allie continues. He loves her, even though it is costly to him. He loves her, even though most, if not all, of the features that initially attracted him to her have now gone. No doubt the attraction of that love makes the film popular.
What’s interesting, though, is that a significant number of people hate The Notebook because they consider it to be unrealistic. Many people say that Noah and Allie’s relationship is just too good to be true. In real life, they say, that sort of relationship doesn’t exist.
Even those involved in making the film were split on this. Ryan Gosling, who plays Noah, admitted, “I don’t know of anybody who has had a romance quite like this.” Producer Lynn Harris admitted that, whilst dedicated romances exist, the film is in her words “a little bit of a fairytale and a little bit of fantasy of what romance should be.” She went on:
“Everyone wants to believe that somebody could love them that much, that somebody could have that much dedication, that somebody could have that kind of faith in the bond that connects people. As few and far between as these kinds of movies are, when they work, they work really well because they hit that heartstring in everybody. You can be as cynical as you want… but everybody wants to believe in real love.”
No-one really disputes that Noah and Allie’s love for each other is attractive. All of us long for a love like that of Noah and Allie. We feel as though we’re wired for this sort of relationship of intimacy and acceptance. And yet our experiences of love in real life don’t seem to match up to the love that we believe in. As good as relationships can be – and they can be very, very good – they still seem to fall short.
This leaves us with a few options:
- Become a pragmatist – abandon such high ambitions for love, it doesn’t exist – just enjoy romance and relationships as best you can
- Force the relationship that you’re into meet the ideal – but perfection is a very unfair expectation to place onto someone who wasn’t designed to carry the sort of emotional burden that you are placing on them
- Keep hoping that maybe one day Mr or Mrs Right will turn up
A Christian might suggest a fourth response. Our pursuit for love leaves us still unfulfilled if we look for it in human relationships alone. So if even the best human relationships cannot satisfy, and our inbuilt desire is so high, then is it possible that we were made for another relationship? Is it possible that we were made to relate to a loving God?
The Christian view is that your desire to be loved unconditionally and forever is real. But to seek it in human relationships alone is to look for it in the wrong place. It can only be ultimately fulfilled by the God of relationship. The tragedy is that because our romantic desires seem to so closely match what we feel our lives our missing, we can get easily sidetracked. But the relationship that God offers us – with all its intimacy, acceptance and unconditional love: that is what we’re wired for.
Jesus’ love for us was demonstrated in his death. He looked our death and judgement in the eye and willingly and voluntarily took it upon himself. The death of Jesus wasn’t a tragic accident. It was the supreme demonstration of the love of God. And it comes to people that are sinners; to people who – at best – have treated God as a footnote in their lives.
It’s this quality that makes God’s love so radically different. He loves you at your worst. He loves you even at the moments when you spurn him most. It means that God doesn’t love you because you’ve wowed him through your excellence. He loves you and desires you at your worst. He loves you because he loves. And the fact that you didn’t earn his love for you means that there’s nothing you can do it lose it. It’s a love you can build your life on. It’s a love you can build your death on.
True love is when someone knows you through and through and yet still they desire you. And that is true of the love of the God of the Bible. Although you were his enemy, he pursues you. He has shown his love through an extravagant act. That whilst you were still a sinner – failing to love him as you ought – Jesus died for you. He knows everything above you. He paid a great cost for you. He desires you. Even death won’t rob you of this relationship, but even perfects it. And if you love him, you’ll live for him and discover a satisfying relationship you didn’t think was possible.
Rachel McAdams, who plays Allie in the film, described The Notebook like this: “Ultimately, it’s just a grand love story. And love’s just about one of the most important things, to me anyway. Honestly, I think that if you can find a good love that will last you that long, you’ve got the key.” The more ferociously we seek to find fulfilment in human romantic relationships alone, the more frustrated we become. Frustration can lead to obsession, creating deep hurt within us and even in those we love.
But instead Jesus comes to us tonight and says: “Get away from what is destroying you and satisfy your heart with God himself. He is what your heart has hungered for all along. Here is the key to knowing love and fulfilment, just the way you are. I have done everything that you might know him and enjoy a relationship of unconditional love with him forever. Will you come to me? Will you satisfy yourself in my love forever?”