As the dictionary stated, romance is associated with love while drama is an emotional or conflicting situation. The drama and romance genres are not everyone’s “favorite” to watch. In the United States, Statista conducted a survey of favorite movie genre/television genre by gender in 2016. Results show that drama ranked first and surprisingly, romance ranked last. A reason why romance ranked last can be the cliché love stories where the leading characters end up with each other at the end of the movie which makes people choose to watch another movie genre. The two genres are combined in movies to create an appeal to viewers. With this technique, the films are more realistic which can attract people to watch with a combined drama and romance in one film. Since drama-romance films are not dependent on special effects, the plots of these films are very much paid attention to. When one makes a good drama-romance movie, a large ROI is guaranteed as stated by Deane (2010).
The best love story films boomed in the 20th century. Some of these are the famous “Titanic”, “Gone With The Wind”, and many more. Now in the 21st century, drama-romance films are still in the industry. The films to be analyzed in this paper are the 2007 film named “P.S. I Love You” and 2009 film named “(500) Days of Summer”. The question is, can Lacanian psychoanalysis be related to the elements of these films?
The film “P.S. I Love You” is a 2007 novel-based film. It is about a widow named Holly who had an unusual experience of occasionally receiving letters from his deceased husband, Gerry. This was planned ahead of time with the help of Holly’s mother, Patsy, who was not convinced at first that this act of giving letters to Holly will help her move on from his husband’s passing. The written letters were intended for Holly to go back to memory lane and experience again the events she shared with her husband but now, differently as she experiences these events with her friends and other people in her life.
The other film to be analyzed in this paper is the 2009 film, “(500) Days of Summer”. This nonlinear film is about Tom, a guy who believes that soul mates exist, looking back at his relationship with Summer, a girl who opposes his belief. Wanting to convince Summer that love does exist, Tom pursues her. As a result, their relationship was not easy to work out.
In both films, the leading characters did not end up with their intended partners. Just as Lacan believes that “love is about being one with the lover”, but he tells that love is about the two. He says that “the one is an illusion”. He also declares that the principle of love is “difference” instead of “harmony” (Demandante, “Lacanian Perspectives on Love”).
This paper presents how Lacanian psychoanalysis can be used to analyze the stated films. This psychoanalysis focuses on culture which is a modification of the Freudian psychoanalysis that focuses on biology. Lacanian psychoanalysis states that we ‘lack’ something in our lives and we go on with our lives trying to find a solution to fill what we ‘lack’. Lacan tells us that our desire is lost and we need to search for it so we find alternatives for this desire of ours (Storey, “Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction”). This endless search of the ideology of romantic love can be related to the films, “P.S. I Love You” and “(500) Days of Summer”.
In 1960, a French psychoanalyst named Jacques Lacan told a story which went like this: “Imagine you see in front of you a beautiful flower or a ripe fruit. You reach out your hand to grab it. But at the moment you do, the flower, or the fruit, bursts into flames. In its place you see another hand appear, reaching back towards your own.” The unusual appearance of the beautiful flower or ripe fruit represents love. This beautiful flower or ripe fruit is a declaration that love is beautiful – what we desire is full of beauty. The bursting of this object into flames represents that love suddenly disappears. The hand appearing has different interpretations. Fink says that it symbolizes the reciprocation of love we desire while Leader says that this hand is also trying to grab the beautiful flower or the ripe fruit (Hewitson, “What Does Lacan Say About…Love?”).
The abovementioned story relates to Lacan’s three stages of development which can be applied to the stated films. These stages are ‘mirror stage’, ‘fort-da’ game, and the ‘Oedipus complex’ (Storey, “Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction”).
The first stage is the ‘mirror stage’ where “the infant sees itself in a mirror and sees not only an image of its current self but also the promise of a more complete self”. The second stage or the ‘fort-da’ game is ‘a presence made of absence’. As Lacan said, this is the time when the desire for love becomes ‘human’ which in turn makes the child ‘born into language’. The third stage is the ‘Oedipus complex’ which depicts the part of ‘encounter with a sexual difference’. In the films, in order for the leading characters to get what they desire, they looked for different alternatives.
In the film “P.S. I Love You”, the mirror stage is the part that showed Holly, an Art student, was lost in Ireland for her college trip. She suddenly met Gerry, an Irish. Gerry was first attracted to Holly’s colors. And as they continued to communicate, they found their selves attracted to one another. They were each other’s “beautiful flower” or “ripe fruit”.
As seen in the early parts of the film and the flashbacks, they grabbed the opportunity to be together, the ‘fort-da’ game. They reached each other’s hands to stay together. They had conflicts in their relationship but their love for each other was evident. The flower or the fruit burst into flames when Gerry died of brain tumor. It was a very difficult transition to Holly’s life. It was a hard time for Holly to recover from Gerry’s death.
In spite of this, “a hand tried to reach back Holly’s own”. The ‘Oedipus complex’ was applied when Holly looked for ways to move on from her husband. She had a brief intimacy with Gerry’s best friend but it did not work out. Also, Daniel tried to win Holly’s heart after the sudden death of Gerry, and Holly thought that it was the reciprocation which she was longing for. But in the end, they both realized that they were better off as friends, but not as lovers. Holly realized that she can move on from her husband’s death. She realized that there is more to life and she must not rush things in order for her to substitute her great love, her deceased husband.
The film “(500) Days of Summer” showcased the ups and downs of Tom and Summer’s failed relationship. The ‘mirror stage’ is justified in the belief of Tom that ‘the one’ for him will be his key to true happiness. And then came the beautiful flower or the ripe fruit, Summer, his boss’ new assistant. He was immediately fascinated by the girl’s beauty and convinced his self that she is ‘the one’. Tom pursued Summer. He tried to grab this “beautiful flower”. He believed that Summer is her soul mate. On the other hand, Summer did not believe that soul mates exist. But even with this mindset of Summer, Tom still believed that he is in a relationship with his soul mate which depicts the ‘fort-da’ game.
As Tom declared to Summer that he believes that the two of them are definitely not just flirting and that they are in a relationship, Summer still upholds her belief. But after this, they were still happy with each other. Then suddenly, after seeing a movie together and decided to eat, Summer told Tom that they must stop seeing each other and she is not happy. So, Tom decided to leave. This is where the beautiful flower burst into flames.
Tom thought that Summer is “reaching back” when she invited him to her house party when in fact, it was her engagement party. Tom was completely devastated by this. Tom looked and worked out for alternatives after this. He pursued his passion, architecture. And as he was sitting by the bench at his favorite city spot, Summer came near him and explained that she now believes in destiny. She told him that he was right about what he believes in but not with her. As Tom was waiting for his turn for his job interview, a girl named Autumn was also in line. This is the start of his new relationship with a new person as he searches to fulfill his desire of love, the ‘Oedipus complex’.
Taking everything into account, the drama-romance films “P.S. I Love You” and “(500) Days of Summer” can be analyzed using the Lacanian psychoanalysis. Both films presented the three stages of development by Lacan. The leading characters in the films search for love to complete their desired selves. They looked for love, they found it, but in the end, they did not end up with the one they love so they look for replacements. Holly figured out that she must move on with her life and must not rush things and Tom moves on from Summer and tries to look for love from a different person. The two films are good examples that in reality, love is not easy to achieve. We find alternatives, may it be a person, an object, an act, to fulfill the missing piece in our lives.