Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ride the Wave

In a beautiful and well endowed nursing home somewhere south of heaven, an old man reads to an old woman. The book (a journal) we soon learn is a story of two young lovers who first met in 1940. The old woman’s mind is lost to Alzheimer’s and she listens to the story as unknowing (at first) of its origin as we are. The picture shifts into flashback and we soon realize the story is of a boy and girl in youth who over the years have become the two old people in the nursing home.

Allie is a rich girl and Noah a poor lumber mill worker. They fall in love, but fate (in the guise of concerned, class conscious parents) steps in and forces them apart. Allie is taken far away and while Noah writes to her every day, his letters are intercepted by the girl’s disapproving mother. Seven years pass and Allie meets and falls in love with another man. Marriage is in the plans, but in another turn of fate, Allie chances upon a newspaper photograph of Noah, and is drawn inextricably back to him, unable to quash her love for the man who has never forgotten her. (Cue the violins.)

Sound familiar? This is the movie I saw on television the other night, one that can only be described as soggy, old-fashioned and schmaltzy, but despite the sentimentality of coming back from progressive Alzheimer’s disease, the story packs a big emotional punch without evolving into too much soap opera.

The Notebook is a 2004 movie based on Nicholas Sparks’ book. The locations for the movie are all in South Carolina, and the photography by Robert Fraisse makes the story seem as though it is set in a paradise of sunsets, moonlit waterways, birds, candlelight and period color. In truth, all of it is very postcard-like, with a script that sometimes edges into Hallmark platitudes of beauty. But while that may be the case, there’s no escaping the fact that it is so very, very beautiful to look at! One scene of birds in a swampy lake with the young lovers drifting through green water among the flocks of white makes you want to hit the replay button two or three times. Granted there is good measure of sappy dialogue in the scenes between the young couple, but flash forward to the aged pair and we see the terror and confusion of old age dementia, beautifully played by Gena Rowlands and James Garner. Rowlands plays the confusion and lostness of Alzheimer’s in a marvelous and luminous characterization. Her performance, as well as Garner’s overpowers any interference by bad dialogue or lush violins.

There is a spectre of Alzheimer’s disease circling the heart of this story, but that center is about the enduring love of two people throughout the passage of years and the vagaries of life. I heard a comment to the effect that The Notebook engages the emotions with engines at full, but fails to exercise the viewer’s intellect. My feeling about that? Relax and ride the emotional wave. That’s worth a couple of hours and the price of a DVD rental from time to time. Is it really necessary to untangle existential dilemmas with every movie?

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America