in praise of fear (and rom-coms)

First the serious, then the silly. The complex, then the simple. First Charlotte and a hint of Katie (Roiphe, not Couric), then Ryan and Matthew.

So fascinated by the documentary on Charlotte Rampling, The Look. Yes, she of the unforgettable eyes which, even at the un-plastic-surgeried (yay!) age of 66 are still as strikingly and uniquely beautiful as ever. It is a strangely unsettling and thought-provoking ramble of a conversation between Charlotte and her friends, writers, photographers, painters, directors, with vignettes from her past films. Elusive and unconventional, in this film she exposes herself while guarding so much within. I can’t wait to find and revisit some of her old films… The Night Porter, The Damned

I adore what she said in an interview with James Mottram about fear.

“You need to get to a point where fear is useful; fear is very useful. Fear is a great motor. It’s the greatest motor. The greatest things are done through a sense of adrenaline-fuelled fear, I think. Ask a racing driver just before he’s about to start driving what he feels.”

I truly believe that fear was behind every significant thing I’ve done in my life, behind every leap and every dive. For many years life was one big deep breath and a push out the door from the part of me that knew that I needed to move in order to live. I worry that my children, who have had a relatively smooth time of it, have grown complacent and do not have that burn, that fire within. I know though, that it will come, for they are adventurers with open eyes, and life will not always be so easy peasy. On the one hand I want to protect them, but on the other I want to push them off the cliff (with wings, of course).

I wonder if it is that metal-sharp taste of fear that we yearn for as life presents fewer and fewer situations for us to experience that gut-twist of not knowing what is ahead. As we settle, as we grow older and grow families we often must sate this urge vicariously—we watch, we read, we dream—but once-removed adrenaline is of a different sort, isn’t it?

I was thinking of this as I read the first essay in Katie Roiphe’s In Praise of Messy Lives. (I know, there are so many haters out there who might pin me up by my nostrils if they knew I was reading her, but when I step back and take her words without the context of all the controversies that surround her, I rather like them. They make me think in new ways, and I’ve always been drawn to the underdog, the one everyone else shuns). Anyway, she wrote of feeling something like this:

“It reminds me of college and shortly afterward, when you walk down the street feeling every single thing, bad and good, more vividly than you do in a more comfortable stage of life, when your feelings are more muffled.”

She, it seems, became a born-again bundle of “strange jittery energy,” a feeling “raw, close to the bone, jangly, nervous, productive,” when she split up with her husband. Doing so, she found, “is one of the very few times in adult life when you get a chance to invent yourself.” Eek. There must be a better way, no?

Alas, perfect moment to revert to the silly, the flip side of fear and unpredictability…

I should start by saying the obvious: I am so not a rom-com kind of gal. Feel-good things don’t usually make me feel good, but then again I’m an odd sort, I know. Confession: I have watched two in two days (Treadmill time, when I’m not reading, is my time to either sweat to Pitbull or to watch movies, and sometimes a girl has to give into the plethora of silliness).

The first one was How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They weren’t meant to, and mutual deception nearly derails things, but love prevails. The second was Crazy, Stupid, Love, in which parallel stories repeat the same exact formula, converging in delightfully predictible ways. Ryan Gosling is basically Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson is Juliette Moore. Steve Carell is sort of a blend of Ryan and Matthew.

They are like prepackaged spice packets: the elements of great drama are all there, but neatly blended and prepared to make them easier to swallow. The stories are of course formulaic, but when well acted and scripted offer up a tale as cute as that image of the little owl caress on youtube which makes me smile every single time. (OK, in case you haven’t seen it, which is unlikely, since 13 million people have…here it is.)

Back to the movies… they are clever and silly and heart-pinching in all the right places, the characters and situations in these films are drawn in such a way that anyone, even someone like me, can find themselves in bits and pieces of one or more of the characters. They are so incredibly human and so incredibly flawed, they mess up and make up and find redemption in a flurry of happy endings. The chaos settles and love, sweet love, prevails. Ooh-la-la. Visual valium.

There is comfort, I suppose, in this. We know, in the broad sense, what to expect and the plot delivers it up with few surprises. Stories like these don’t tax our cerebellum too much, they affirm that life is good. Without any hesitation we can hop into the car alongside the characters knowing that we are safe, that they will not take us on the wrong path, certainly not down the dark one which twists and turns and whose end is unmapped.

I’m finally getting the attraction to and value of the predictable in literature and in life, the need for rituals and formulas which lend structure to the confusion of living, which remind us of our own fragility and through it ties us to others. We cannot always live life on the edge, too much adrenaline burns like acid. A bit of levity is a natural mood-lifter. Oh, and watching McConaughey and Gosling is clearly no chore, although they are not my type at all.

I wonder if Charlotte and Katie watch rom-coms… I’ll bet they do, even if they won’t admit it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s