Like many twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings (and the rest) I grew up in a household full of fanciful cinematic creations from The Walt Disney Company. Disney’s magic stayed with me all throughout my childhood and teenage years. Dreaming at night like Cinderella, waking up and daydreaming like Belle and as soon as I felt I was old enough I begged my mother to dye my hair red like Ariel’s (no really). It’s no surprise that I grew up assuming, underneath it all, that one day I’d meet my match as they did, it’d be perfect, obviously, and we’d live “happily ever after”.
As I got older and I started questioning everything in life: religion, education, societal norms, etc… searching for truth and wisdom, I sporadically started calling bullsh*t on every Disney movie I’d ever seen.
“Ariel was 16, why was she even thinking about marriage?”
“Cinderella danced with him one time and decided he’s the love of her life!?”
“How could an intelligent woman like Belle fall in love with a then non-human, that imprisoned her and her father like that?”
What seemed to make so much sense back then no longer did but my romantic expectations were still as fanciful as the movies were. My perspective on love had been molded by my environment, my environment being Disney movies, and my Disney collection being… Well, the lot of them.
We learn by our mistakes, trial and error, and it’s been told that our hearts only truly learn from first hand experience. While this is true, I have had moments of clarity and realization from watching other (non-Disney!) movies that have been just as profound as any bitch-slap reality has given me. Here are my top 5 movies I think every Disney molded human being should watch to help re-mold their way of thinking.
1. 500 Days of Summer
500 Days of Summer is a movie of boy (Tom) meets girl (Summer), boy dates girl, falls in love with girl and she ends up breaking his heart. Their investment and hopes for their unspecified level of relationship are completely different. While he’s daydreaming about how perfect she is, the one and only he’s been waiting for, she’s –assumedly unintentionally– biding her time and giving him a chance until the situation gets too serious for her conscience and/or irritation level. What is a fling to her is a situation he’s desperate to put a label on, overanalyzing and stressing over where it’s going and how she’s feeling while she carelessly frolics along with her cute outfits, enjoying his company, but pleading that it’s platonic despite their flirtations and physical expressions.
The reason why so many people relate to this film is because it’s the most common scenario in romantic history: one person falls in love while the other isn’t quite there, at all. Tom believes that when he finds “the one” his life will be complete and Summer believes in no such thing. Her heartbreaking line to him upon meeting months after they went their separate ways, and asking about her recent engagement, is as simple as this:
Summer: I just… I just woke up one day and I knew.
Tom: Knew what?
Summer: …What I was never sure of with you.
That last line was single-handedly responsible for both curing my cardiovascular anguish and my understanding of unrequited love in its clearest terms. It is what it is, in-complex, and a poignant moment in the film. What we learn in this movie is to confirm, to clarify, to not get caught up in a fantasy version of your situation and instead deal with the task at hand and though sometimes awkward, stating your feelings and having them reciprocated… or moving on.
Sometimes it’s as basic as they’re just not that into you, and that’s some solid solace-inducing realism to go by. Which leads me to my next movie title…
2. He’s Just Not That Into You
A movie about the complexity behind all types of relationships: first dates, casual dating, couples with conflicting marital views, cheating spouses, online dating and wanting what you can’t have.
What really got my attention was Justin Long’s character Alex and his pep talks to the sweetheart of the film, the somewhat desperate but adorably naïve, Gigi. On her quest for a relationship she goes out of her way to track down her dates post hanging-out to enquire about their interest in her. This prompts Alex to point her in the right direction to save her any unnecessary embarrassment:
“Trust me when I say if a guy is treating you like he doesn’t give a shit, he genuinely doesn’t give a sh*t. No exceptions.”
Not the most profound set of words but sometimes I think we just need to hear it, plain and simple, and from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Another conversation that made me pause and ponder was when Alex and Gigi were people watching at a bar:
Alex: This guy’s going to be buying her drinks all night and she’s going to insist that there’s no “spark”.
Gigi: Maybe there’s not. You need a spark.
Alex: No, the “spark” thing is shit.
Alex: Bull shit.
Gigi: Enlighten me.
Alex: Guys invented the “spark” so that they could not call, and treat you kind of bad, and keep you guessing, and they convince you that that anxiety and that fear that they’re throwing at you is actually, just a “spark”. And you guys all buy it. You eat it up. And you love it. You love it because you feed off that drama. You all love that drama.
Gigi: I don’t.
Alex: Oh really? So you never wait until the last minute on a deadline or phone bill because secretly you kind of love the drama of not knowing whether or not you’re going to make it?
His candid words were an instant deep conditioning treatment for my perspective on dating rituals and my interpretation of the habits mentioned. Games are being played and we interpret them as we will, and often in delusion or denial. So again, the same type of message but broken down in reference to the beginnings of a situation. Don’t make any assumptions, you really don’t know until you know, so find out.
3. Eat, Pray, Love
A movie about a woman unhappy in her state of mind taking a timeout from her busy New York life to pursue peace and self-healing through traveling. She sets off to Italy, blissfully enjoying the luxuries of the romantic city, spends time in India learning about meditation and the value of selfless work and ends up in Indonesia seeking guidance from a medicine man and meeting a new love.
On her journey she reflects on her past and her heartbreaks revealing pearls of wisdom that take years of introspection to unfold in the average scattered mind. Her confrontation with herself unmasks some uncomfortable character tendencies and evokes a battle within herself in search of courage and renewal. Here are some of her words I found most insightful:
“I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.”
“A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. “
And some advice from her friend Richard, a wise Texan she meets while on her path to enlightenment in India:
Richard: Problem is, you can’t accept that his relationship had a real short shelf life. You’re like a dog at the dump, baby – you’re just lickin’ at the empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you’re not careful, that can’s gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it.
Liz: But I love him.
Richard: So love him.
Liz: But I miss him.
Richard: So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it.
4. Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind
A movie about a man and a woman who enter a relationship that eventually winds up being toxic and dysfunctional. In an attempt to move on with their lives they resort to erasing each other from their memory through a non-surgical procedure. This process takes us on a journey of the flaws in their relationship as well as their strong points.
What I like about this movie is that it gives a true representation of the ups and downs, of the seesaw of emotions that couples go through. The feeling of completeness that a partner brings to your life as well as the burden of their closeness. How the same person responsible for your joy is the same person responsible for your pain. It’s the predicament a lot of lovers result in and the habit of many people that jump from relationship to relationship.
It’s a perfect example of a relationship gone wrong, turned sour, that wasn’t rooted in two emotionally healthy individuals in the first place. Of two people that traded in their loneliness for each other and in return became dependant and in a constant state of need. The giving and receiving of their love temporarily putting a band aid on their mutual lack of fulfilment but eventually losing its stick. Like any other addiction the high only lasts so long before it becomes destructive and they start blaming the cause of the pain that was already inside them, on each other.
It’s a cycle that isn’t new to us, we’re so used to seeing it that it looks normal. The inevitable demise of the insecure relationship. Insecurity type subject to the individual but all projected destructive behavior comes from a lack of something in ourselves. It’s thought-provoking seeing our society’s mass romantic dysfunction all laid out so bare and relatable and accessible. And although that isn’t the point of the movie, the main draw or what makes the movie so smart and interesting, it can make a person think twice about the characteristics of their relationships… guideposts and red flags, etc.
Hitch, a modern day portrayal of a (perhaps overconfident) distinguished Prince Charming and his career-driven high strung (but not quite) damsel in distress. This movie, quite unlike the rest, is a realistic ideal of how to pursue love properly, that it’s not perfect, and that there’s likely to be some miscommunication and speed bumps along the way. It’s light-hearted, funny and romantic but I think it successfully avoids cheesiness and definitely provides some ‘what tos’, ‘what not to dos’ and what do you know… you get your happy ending too. No harsh life lesson, just a clean and good-hearted story of optimism without the ridiculousness of running around in glass slippers that fit your feet so well, that one manages to fall off.