Is Love Actually a film of parallels with no compromise? For example, people are either wholly good/bad, or know the proper way to love/how not to love.
The premise of Love Actually is centered on finding love in the most unlikely of circumstances. Yet, this is not the case for some characters, as there are set boundaries on what is the proper way to love, and what is not. In Sarah’s storyline, she finally connects with Karl, the man she has loved for years, at the work Christmas party. After taking him home, they are interrupted by phone calls from Sarah’s disabled, dependent brother. Upon Sarah choosing to answer the phone, their love affair seems to be over before it has started. Despite also seeming to have taken a shine to Sarah from afar, Karl disregards a relationship that could be based on the dependence also of a third party. Therefore, for a film that allows people to come together in impossible circumstances, it is interesting that this storyline is discontinued due to this certain complication. Also, a very definite message throughout the story is that Mia and Harry’s relationship is wrong. Whilst there is no arguing with the innate impropriety of their affair, the screen time they do have is insufficient in exploring what may have lead to this affair: perhaps Mia’s insecurity as a female in a predominantly male workplace, or Harry’s worries at an increasingly stagnant marriage. The only emotions considered in this film are Karen’s, Harry’s wronged wife, who is portrayed as good whilst her husband and mistress are undeniably bad. Thereby, in a world where no one can possibly be wholly perfect, or wholly damned, parallels exist that brand characters with this stereotype. Yet, there is a surprisingly heart-warming and realistic storyline: John and Judy. Despite seeing each other naked and stimulating sex as body doubles before even their first date, this storyline suggests there is no proper way to love, or meet your future love.
How is the storyline, that interweaves many different people’s stories, effective?
Love Actually is famous for it’s variety of storylines, interwoven in busy London in the run up to Christmas. Through having more than a few characters involved in a story, it allows for a larger sense of community as well as individual friendships, suggesting that London is actually connected by people and is not wholly an impersonal place. All the characters have connections with others, whether it be work colleagues, friends, or family. Therefore, there is always a visible person in the film that cares for another, creating a collective sense of wanting everyone to achieve a happy ending. Yet the interweaving storylines are not only about a sense of unity, but a mode of comparison between people, and how they choose to love. For example, Colin seeks young attractive women to have sexual relations with, and this is acceptable as he is also young and unattached. It is, however, inappropriate for Harry to seek the same thing as an older, married person. The difference in age range also presents possibilities for the future. Juliet and Peter are a newly married couple, whilst Harry and Karen have been married for years, and Daniel has just lost his wife. This simultaneously presents the possibilities of married life, but also the impossibility in predicting if Juliet and Peter's marriage will also end this way. Yet most of all, the many different storylines are used to show that love is inclusive of everyone, of any age and background. Despite the loss and unhappiness in everyone’s lives, there is always the possibility of unconditional love.
Is Mark’s grand gesture romantic, or sly?
It has been speculated by many as to the intention of Mark’s billboard scene at the end of Love Actually. Upon initially watching the film, the scene is undoubtedly romantic, telling Juliet that he will love her until the end of time without expecting anything in return. Yet, upon further reflection, this is seemingly not so innocent. Firstly, he urges Juliet to tell her husband, and his best friend, that it is carol singers at the door; encouraging deception of Peter is the first red flag. Secondly, if Mark really had no motives and loved Juliet without expecting anything back, the action of proclaiming his love for her is contradictory in itself. At the end, Mark says ‘Enough now’ to himself, suggesting that the gesture was needed for a sense of closure to his feelings. Yet, in receiving the kiss from Juliet, the scene can also be read as a need for self-affirmation, that Juliet may have loved him if she had met him before Peter.
Does Love Actually prove you cannot have love without pain?
The trials and tribulations of every character trying to find love in this film are necessary to provide entertaining viewing. But does it also suggest that love cannot exist without pain? We begin with those who have experienced marital love for years. Karen and Harry seem to be falling out of love, suggesting perhaps an inevitability to married life after many years, and an eventual pain that cannot be avoided. There are also those beginning the awkward start to a relationship, such as David and Natalie, who through circumstance and professional courtesy cannot originally find the words to tell each other their feelings. Whilst this is a different kind of pain than loss, it is still the pain at not being able to be with the person you desire. The worst kind of pain that accompanies love in this movie is grief, such as Daniel mourning his wife, or Sarah being unable to be with her love, Karl. For these storylines, there is no love without pain. Yet, the conclusion to this Richard Curtis film is much more uplifting. Whilst many characters suffer many different types and degrees of pain, the love they eventually receive is worth both the risk and suffering. Therefore, whilst pain does often accompany attempts at finding, or maintaining love, this is not a signal to give up. Love must be fought for through the most difficult times, and one will be rewarded.
Are women actually under-represented? Are men subtly dominating the gender politics of Love Actually?
Love Actually is evidently a romantic film, involving many heterosexual relationships between man and woman. Therefore, it is almost assumed as a pretext that the two genders are equally represented throughout. Yet, once analysed, the women in the film are actually under represented, and are given little talking compared to their male counterparts. The first example is Karen, wife to Harry. The film watches Harry, Managing Director of a Design Firm, in both his work environment and at home, whereas Karen is displayed only as a harassed and compliant housewife. Karen is only allowed more screen time when she has to react to her husband’s actions, his affair with Mia. The next two examples are more obvious, and focus on the lack of female voice throughout the film. Aurelia, the Portuguese maid who falls for Jamie, is given a voice only in subtitles. She never actually talks to Jamie until the end of the film. Therefore, from Jamie’s viewpoint, she is a silent character, unable to communicate with. The third example is the Joanna’s, both the deceased and alive. We never see Daniel’s late wife, we just witness the effects of mourning they have on her. Additionally, Sam’s crush, Joanna, is merely an idea suggested by the young boy, only materialising at the very end when Sam must make a move. Therefore, whilst the magic of the relationships in Love Actually, can never be disputed, it is questionable as to how quickly the male-dominated relationships are accepted as normal by the society that views the film.
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