By Lydia Bennett
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, conversations about the romance classic The Notebook are never far from people’s lips. The award-winning book-turned-movie and the plethora of other screen adaptions by American author Nicholas Sparks are undoubtedly classics in the romantic genre, and usually top the list for must-watch films of the Valentine’s weekend. If you didn’t know them as Nicholas Sparks movies already, titles such as The Longest Ride, Safe Haven, Dear John and The Last Song make up just a sample of the movies that make Sparks such a powerful figure in the world of romance.
These movies are always my go-to for a fix of romance and most importantly, they top the list for the times I need to get the tear-ducts working again. Every time I watch one, I find myself wanting to catch a plane to North Carolina, hire a house by the beach and wait for a local heartthrob to whisk me off my feet. Sparks never fails to get us all ‘loving love’ by the end of the two hours we commit to his storytelling and he’s certainly good as making us want more. However, I can’t help feeling a little guilty each time I watch, in the knowledge that these movies are shaping my perceptions of love and romance, and often not for the better. I am, of course, aware that these movies are completely fictitious, but that doesn’t stop me from falling for the image that is being fed to me on screen. I think it’s about time to see what Nicholas Sparks is actually encouraging us to believe about love and romance through his movies – are these movies healthy for our view of relationships or simply setting a bad example?
First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that unfortunately, many of these love stories promote some rather toxic relationship traits throughout their narratives. Let’s be clear about this though, it’s not simply the showing of toxic traits on screen that is the problem for me (in fact showing these things can be vitally important for deconstructing an unrealistic, unattainable image of love), it’s the portrayal of these traits as fairy-tale depictions of what love should be. We need look no further than Amanda in The Best of Me who cheats on her husband in order to rekindle the spark she once had with her high school sweetheart, Dawson. It seems to me that the film frames cheating as acceptable for the sake of ‘following one’s heart’ without facing the consequences or dealing with the damage to unfaithfulness.
Another example sees Noah and Allie in The Notebook depicted as the only correct fit for one another. Although there is a period of separation between the two, Noah and Allie eventually reconcile in the belief that they are made for each other, eventually being shown in their old age together. This can of course be the case for some people, but the suggestion that there is ‘the one’ for everyone, depicted so often throughout Sparks’ movies, severely undermines reality. In fact, I think it’s pretty unrealistic to expect the universe to supply one romantic partner who will make all your dreams come true, and this mentality can be pretty damaging if implemented into real life.
A final observation I’ve made of the impact Nicholas Sparks’ movies have on our perception of romance, is their incessant need to cast only beautiful people in these stories, as if romance is only for conventionally attractive people. Once again, I am fully aware that these are Hollywood productions and beauty sells. I know that, but some of the most attractive people (by conventional standards might I add) in the world have played protagonists in Nicholas Sparks movies – does that mean normal people aren’t entitled to romance? I find it really hard to empathise with the stories on screen when the protagonists look perfect all the time, and crucially, I think these movies only exaggerate our dissatisfaction at the normal world we live in, absent of Hollywood celebrities with staggering good looks (in my opinion anyway).
As Shakespeare once wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth” and to be honest I have to conclude by saying that hat Nicholas Sparks’ does a good job of showing that romance isn’t completely plain sailing. Whilst these movies may have some questionable aspects to their narrative (which I admit I have dwelled upon considerably in this article), they don’t suggest that love comes easily and without trials. Ultimately, Nicholas Sparks transports us to a place of idealism and escapism in these love stories which I think the romance genre really does have a space for. There are positives to providing us with escapism and idealised romance but ultimately, we must be wary that these stories are simply that, stories. They are fictional accounts of romance and love that purposefully avoid the reality of relationships for the purpose of entertaining audiences.
Although we still love you Nicholas, we’ll just have to watch The Notebook without expecting our lives to look exactly the same as Allie and Noah’s, or Luke and Sophia’s or Dawson and Amanda’s. Having said that, I’d better start booking my flights to North Carolina…
Illustration: Verity Laycock