Romance in Cinema and the Concern of Unrealistic Expectations


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It’s raining. He wipes away at her perfectly smeared makeup on her delicately painted face. After a dramatic pause, they share a passion filled kiss as a symphony engulfs them. Then, the music suddenly cuts and a person in a director’s chair tells them they got the shot. When audiences across the globe see this scene in theaters they will think this is the ultimate portrayal of love, right?

What happens if they do? If audiences are led to believe that grand gestures and dramatic confessions of love are what ‘true love’ is, that should mean people are being set up with unrealistic expectations for the real world where people are inherently flawed. From an early age, children are fed perfectly scripted narrations of love, and Disney movies seem to be a staple in every household with kids. The beautifully animated stories that revolve around romance are strategically designed for children’s enjoyment, but the message still remains the same. The common theme of “the one” like in Frozen or “prince charming” in everything from Snow White to The Little Mermaid in their movies is detrimental. If one were to spend their life looking for their “perfect match” they would be continuously disappointed in all their relationships.

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There is no one person who is perfectly made for an individual, and putting that much stress and pressure on anyone or a relationship is unhealthy for both parties involved. Relationships are about compromise and acceptance, and the fantasy of a flawless partner just does not fit in the day to day rush of our real lives. The same concepts carry over into romance movies that are geared towards an adult audience. Sure, the general plot is more mature, but even then these movies still rely on the same motifs and clichés that Disney movies do. One could argue it is the very foundation on which the romance genre rests on. The reason why these concepts are so successful and remain unchanged is that they work. Jeffrey Zacks, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, refers to the “Mirror Rule”: People naturally want to mimic what is in front of them, and they feel what the characters feel on the big screen (Pawlowski, screen). As John Leher puts it, there are mirror neurons in the brain that “[. . . ]automatically imitate the actions of somebody else. So if I see you smile, or lick an ice cream cone, or do something X-rated, then my mirror neurons light up as if I were smiling, or licking an ice cream cone[…]” (Lehrer, screen).

People feel the same breathlessness Rose feels as Jack teaches her how to fly in The Titanic, or the same passion Noah and Allie have as they kiss in the rain in The Notebook. Everyone wants to be loved, and if they could be loved as extravagantly as their favorite characters, then it is all the more enticing. The romance genre has dominated film since the beginning, and in a way, it is no better than the current body image epidemic our society faces.

Picture perfect and meticulously photoshopped models, to look like modern gods, create mass self-esteem issues. Individuals are constantly comparing themselves to the unachievable and as a result, are met with false failure time and time again. How is the romance genre of film any different? Go ahead, compare your own romantic relationship to relationships of the attractive and charming characters; Every line of dialog and every interaction between the two of them have been carefully calculated by a team of writers for months. Even then, people still fall into the trap of comparison despite knowing it is not real.

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