Writers' Note: Right Person, Wrong Time
Perhaps it’s unrequited, perhaps it’s a few years too late. The love, although passionate, was simply not meant to last. For this edition of Writers' Note, the BFB writers select a love story that doesn't quite pan out in the end. Love is messy and ubiquitous; the movie's genre is beside the point. See what the cinephiles selected as the best example of the "right person, wrong time."
“Never let a boyfriend stop you from finding your husband,” is a timeless adage that the two protagonists in Brief Encounter did not adhere to. David Lean and Noël Coward’s 1945 film is maybe the quintessential “right person, wrong time” movie, a sweeping romance that is the blueprint for nearly every film about yearning made since (particularly Carol, a movie I’m especially fond of). Essentially, the movie is a bittersweet comedy of errors in which Celia Johnson’s Laura and Trevor Howard’s Alec meet by happenstance, the latter in from out of town for a short while, both “happily married,” and soon realize they are meant for each other. A realization heartwarming and wrenching in equal measure, in a way only grand romances from the 40s can be. After their first encounter, they arrange weekly visits, prolonging the little game of theirs until they must reckon with whether what they desire is worth upending their lives over. I won’t give too much away, but considering the theme the movie falls under, it’s safe to assume some details.
What’s so striking about this movie and why I always come back to it is just how true it feels, especially for a movie from this period. In an era marked by excess and favor for extremism, Brief Encounter is a movie that feels like something from the heart. Not that its peers aren’t, but there’s a universal truth to the "One That Got Away" trope and it’s why we keep coming back to it, but I might argue that it’s never been done with as much beauty or sorrow as in 1945.
Though it’s only a thread within the solemnly unfolding multigenerational tapestry that Edward Yang weaves together for his final film, Yi Yi, there is perhaps no more deeply affecting missed connection than the one that ties together electronics executive NJ and his lost flame, Sherry. They are both lovers separated nearly three decades ago, with new lives and lovers and families, who still harbor feelings that they’re both too afraid to truly ever act on. It’s a serendipitous connection at first, one that Yang carefully draws out in the midst of his survey of middle-class life in Taipei, capturing the Jian family as they experience quiet tragedy, carefully pondering the desire to escape the drudgery of existence.
That Yang gives us a fleeting, beautiful vision of escape, only makes everything that follows even more heartbreaking. NJ does attempt to atone for his regrets, following Sherry from Taipei to Tokyo for a breathlessly joyous reunion, but the air is never cleared. Their issues are never resolved. A night between them turns cold and distant. They crackle, explode, and fizzle away from one another, and Sherry leaves before NJ ever has a chance to make amends. It’s just another tragedy in miniature, a drop in the tidal wave of devastation that Yi Yi engulfs us within, but it’s perhaps the one that lingers with me the most, pulling me apart in its immense, unspeakable longing. Though his entire filmography is filled with these moments, moments that carry an intense yearning for what could’ve been in some other life, Yi Yi’s meditation on lost love stands out. It is so close, yet so devastatingly far away.
If La La Land is anything in terms of a love story, it’s an unorthodox one. Mia and Sebastian are two aspiring talents that look to make it big in LA. When they meet, they are both at a crossroads in pursuing their dreams. Mia’s struggling to make it as an actress while Sebastian’s hope of bringing jazz back into the mainstream seems farfetched. As they get to know each other better, they fall in love and decide to pursue their dreams together. Mia begins to write a play about her upbringing and hometown while Sebastian gets recruited to join a pop-jazz band. Eventually, their paths conflict, forcing them to reconsider their relationship and their worth of being together. They go their separate ways and both find success without each other.
Watching as their relationship blossoms and progresses, Mia and Sebastian seem perfect for each other. However, the timing of everything forced them to go their own ways. It's a sacrifice that might upset audiences, but which might be for the best as they find their place in the world. Odds are, Mia and Sebastian may not have achieved the success they got had they stayed together. Then again, the epilogue shows that in a perfect world they would as it’s one of the grandest "what if" scenes I’ve laid eyes on. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s chemistry is indisputable. If it hadn’t been for that natural magnetism, I don’t think Mia and Sebastian’s story would resonate as well.
Perhaps it could be that Amanda and Jim were not completely and totally meant to be together (I’m not much of a believer in soulmates anyway), but something about seeing their characters as middle-aged adults reflecting on a bygone era of romance conveys a great deal of magic. In a lot of media, there is an effort to trace two individuals throughout their entire lives in order to provide the context for their attraction. In Alexandre Lehmann’s Blue Jay, the small-town high school sweethearts are never seen as young people. They run into each other by chance. There is no grand orchestration of their reunion; perhaps if they hadn’t seen each other, they wouldn’t have felt any sort of loss. But nostalgia gets the better of them, and they share a romantic day of reminiscing about the past, and just as much, what could have been. The movie ends in a sweet spot just shy of infidelity; two people who share such a rich past cannot be denied a momentary lapse in judgment. But perhaps, if Amanda had been unattached, their relationship could’ve again become fact.
Lehmann’s rich black and white cinematography in combination with Julian Wass’s euphoric, humming score create a singularly captivating atmosphere. Mark Duplass is at his most likable, and Sarah Paulsen gets a break from her more intense roles to play, in essence, a huge dork. Blue Jay isn’t the most tragic of low-budget dramedies that capitalize off of two people re-entering suburbia, but it is one of the more profound. Even when the truth of their break-up comes to the surface, Lehmann doesn't leave either character any worse off. That day of reunion is a blip in their lives, and it may never occur again. Perhaps if they had not been pressured by external matters, as so many are in their young age, they could’ve made their relationship work. At the end of the day, they are a part of each other’s history, and that still means something.
Myriad great cinematic loves have been torn asunder by the cruel whims of fate, separating soulmates for all eternity. But there are some who teeter on the brink of romance, not quite ready to plunge into the sea of true love. Take the tragic tale of Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) from Stuart Gordon’s masterful horror-comedy Re-Animator and Brian Yuzna’s hornier sequel Bride of Re-Animator. These two medical students turned doctors who, by all means, can and should be doing the nasty on the daily never (canonically) get down and dirty. Despite the fact that the duo lives and re-animates the dead together, Dan, being the bisexual in denial that he is, brings home a seemingly unending slew of women to be victimized by him and Herbert’s unholy experiments.
In contrast to Dan’s futile attempts at cookiecutter heterosexual romance, Herbert’s only dedications are to his work and to Dan, who is seemingly the sole person on the planet that West has any amount of tolerance for. An amoral eccentric bent on disrupting the cycle of life and death, Herbert loses friends, acquaintances, and colleagues faster than he can meet them. Yet, despite it all, Dan never leaves his side and, in subtle ways, Herbert refuses to let him. There’s a special bond there, a magnetism between these two men that is foiled continuously by Herbert’s mad ambition and Dan’s quixotic (and, in Bride, overtly misogynistic) quest to find a female counterpart. Attraction be damned, those two zany boys never consummate their love on screen, and, by the third film, Beyond Re-Animator, Dan is nowhere to be found. If you ask me though, during those lost months in the jungles of Peru, they definitely explored each other’s bodies.
-August, Raghav, Tyler, Lydia & Chance