I came across a wonderful statement during revision a few weeks ago. Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut, contains a bed-ridden character who pines that ‘everything to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov, “but that isn’t enough anymore.”’ Dostoevsky’s novel of family feuds has a wide authority on life, on love, though, sadly, has very little to do with laughter. It was also published in 1880, making it 70 years old by the time of the 1950s Slaughterhouse 5. Only 70 years had rendered the sentiments displayed by Dostoevsky seemingly inadequate.
Karamazov’s ending (to remain as spoiler free as possible) reaches a declaration of love, though one that cannot be fully requited, as the characters love others as well as each other. The audience has come to demand that outcome of acknowledged love, for when we are presented with two people who become involved with each other they must fall in love to render the ending satisfactory. Their relationship is where the main play of drama is built up, and, naturally, the consummation of their love lies at the end. The typical way of ending anything is marriage, as it is a safe assumption that the two lovers will stay together, produce hundreds of children and everything should go on, happily ever afterÔ.
However, art has succumbed to life in that a wedding no longer gives certainty to the happy life that one would hope for. Rather each one adds to cynicism – we can joke on the length that they will remain together, raise eyes to the ceiling at every overdramatic airport dash when we know that a phone call would suffice to stop the girl getting on the plane. Marriage has even become middle point in some dramas, where the hero or heroine realizes a mistake, and drama is begotten over an affair that is now more genuine than the marriage. Friends, lest we forget, began with a bride entering a coffee shop in full gown, fleeing her wedding day, thus promptly starting a ten series of drama and comedy. The institution of marriage is no longer the ultimate, binding expression of love.
So where does that leave drama? Well, audiences brought up on Disney films still uphold many of the ideals that directors and authors would want them to. Love as a concept is relatively untouched, it’s just Hollywood can no longer bank on marriage. Instead, movies and books have cashed in different devices that prove love on another level to marriage. Terminal illness has been used in many modern films to higher or lesser degrees of both effectiveness and dignity. Disease acts as the crux on which the relationship of two characters hinges. Love and Other Drugs, for instance, deals with the inevitability of Parkinson’s. Two characters get past the disease to love each other, as no other couple has. Another method of circumventing marriage is the Romeo and Juliet route, as the end of life would set up the two for eternity together in death. Both devices dance around the subject of marriage, its absence signifying a lifelong (or death long) commitment that transcends the exchange of rings; the strength of their bond is in the strength of feeling, and marriage is ultimately unnecessary in displaying that.
The decision as to whether true love in wedlock is anymore believable in entertainment is left to the viewers’ personal view. Essentially, does what is portrayed win one over, to the point where a marriage becomes a believable and important commitment. Yet for many marriage just ‘isn’t enough anymore’, and if its use as a conclusive device is rendered obsolete, then an end becomes an even more difficult proposition for a creator. After all, if there is an uncertainty that taints marriage, that does not allow it to function as the traditional end to a love story, then where, realistically, can a love story end?
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