Let us look at three very different love stories as they appear in the following three very different movies:
The Luzhin Defence
In Open Range we have two free-range cowboys, the “boss” of the outfit played by Robert Duvall, his hired hand who has worked for him for 10 years played by Kevin Costner. Two other men are involved in the outfit playing supporting roles. The story is a relatively straightforward one. The good cowboys are attacked by the evil rancher who doesn’t want them to continue a legal and age old custom of grazing their cows on the open range. The evil rancher kills one hired hand and badly wounds another and Duvall and Costner go to town to duel it out with the evil guys. The good guys win. No real surprises here. It is a Costner movie---he produced it, he directed it, he starred in it. It is about standing up against impossible odds and being willing to risk your life for principles you believe in. It is somewhat different than most stories because the Costner character was once rather evil himself. But he is now reformed. Americans love bad guys so it is always a good touch to mix a little of the bad guy into the good guy in terms of getting the audience to identify with the character. Although reviewers sometimes talk about the horrific gunfight toward the end of the story, Costner goes out of his way to keep the violence at a tolerable level. We often see the results of the violence without seeing the violence itself. This is not a Peckinpaw blood dripping slow motion so you can’t miss the gore type of film. But, what makes the film worth watching is not the gunfight or the cows; it is the love between the doctor’s sister, played by Annette Bening, who helps treat the wounded, and the Costner character.
Most of the relationship is delivered visually; by the looks they give one another. It is Duvall who sees this happening that has to push Costner to put it into words and let her know how he feels. But more than anything, it is a story about acceptance. The four cowboys all accept one another without having to know about their pasts. The Bening character accepts Costner knowing that he has been and still can be a killer. She accepts him without reservation. That is what is important about the film, about the story, about love.
Now if you want to see some real gory violence in a love story go see True Romance. People get killed all over the place and the blood and violence are very graphic. This one came out in 1993 and stars Christian Slater who falls in love with prostitute Patricia Arquette. He goes to tell her pimp that he has married her and that she isn’t in the trade anymore and a fight ensues in which he kills the pimp and his associate. He has come to get his wife’s things and when the battle is over they give him a suitcase and he takes to home to find out that it is full of coke instead of clothes. This starts a series of events in which he tries to sell the coke while mobsters are out to get it back from him. One of the most violent scenes in the movie, one of the grittiest battles between a woman and a man, occurs when a mobster played by Soprano’s star James Gandolfini is beating up on Arquette. Lots of wonderful supporting roles with Brad Pitt playing a spaced out junkie, Christopher Walken playing a mobster who kills Slater’s father played by Dennis Hopper, and Gary Oldman playing the pimp---amongst many others who all deliver great supporting roles. This blood bath is written by Quentin Tarantino before he became famous---he helped finance Reservoir Dogs when he sold this script, his first. It works in part because the horrific violence is mixed with very black humor.
At one point, after his wife has survived a terrific beating, his father is dead, and others are getting killed, Slater says to his battered wife: “It’s all going to work out. We deserve it.” Yeah…sure! But here again, I contend that what makes this movie work more than anything else is the love relationship between these two. They totally accept each other, no questions asked. They give 110% to that relationship, even at the risk of their own lives.
The third movie, The Luzhin Defence, which came out in 2000, has none of this violence in its love story. The leads in this one are John Turturro who plays the eccentric chess master Luzhin and Emily Watson, the woman he falls in love with and with whom he develops one of the strangest love affairs ever told. The movie is based on the 1930 novel by Vladimir Nabokov. We discover through flashbacks to his childhood that he was a chess prodigy as a child in Russia and was taken on tour and emotionally abused by his teacher. By the time he meets Watson at a resort in 1929 where he has come to play, he is a rather tortured soul who was abandoned by his parents as well as the teacher. But she sees beyond the eccentricity and falls in love with him, once again, accepting him as he is, not as others would have him be.
Three very different stories. Three very different time periods. Three very different love stories. All, however, at their heart and soul, are the same. They are all about acceptance. They all depict men who are very flawed who love and are loved in return by women who are capable of accepting them as they are, fully, totally, without reservation, without wanting to change them.
This I would contend is the essence of great love stories, and of real life great love. It is not about clothes, money, beauty, or any other façade that can mislead people in their relationships. It is about acceptance. Unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and empathy are at the heart of these love stories just as these three are at the heart of all great relationships including therapeutic and counseling relationships.