Are Romantic Movies/Books Possible Anymore?

10 posts

Bronze Age Pervert

I've thought for some time that it's really impossible to have a genuine love story set today. As Allan Bloom says at one point in his book, "we keep going back to the bottom of the barrel and coming up empty." Romantic love between man and woman is the signature invention of Christian civilization in the middle ages (partly as a reaction to Christianity, and an overcoming of it), and replaced religious passion as the foundation of the arts. Without it both the arts and actually life--if by this one understands something beyond mere life--have become sterile and boring. Much of modern anomie is to be understood as the drying up of this source of vitality. There were some genuine attempts to replace it with something new in the 1920's but both German nihilism and existentialism are crisis-mode attitudes that are too dependent on historical events and in the end too dour to serve as the foundation of arts and of life. Without longing and fanatical belief in sexual passion (romantic love) there's really little to live for. And I think it's not possible to have genuine love stories told in movies or books.

I can think only of a couple of examples of movies, and both are Asian. I think this is because there are still some social obstacles to strong individual sexual passion in Asian culture. Love stories depend on demonstrating the primal superiority and power of sexual love over all merely human conventions, tribal laws, etc., all obstacles, even to the point where lovers are willing to sacrifice their lives; Romeo and Juliet is the blueprint, but even when it doesn't come to death, that has to be a possibility, and the principle of obstacle is the same. Well one big problem is there aren't any obstacles to conquer and partly as result, partly as cause, Western people pretend to take sex casually. Of course they can't take it casually which is why this leads to sexual dysfunction especially among the middle and upper middle classes (often ridiculed by the rich and the poor in history for their sexual repression and ridiculousness...anxious, socially insecure people don't make good lovers), or otherwise to hysterical fits, nagging, petty jealousies, and reabsorption into the female muck of every day life; instead of romantic and idealistic flights of passion. Still I think the cause of why romantic passion has dried up is deeper and is possibly biological (feminism being only a reaction).

As to whether it is possible in movies, let's consider this. I know of only a couple of recent movies that can capture this well.


Great post.

My personal favorite when it comes to romances is Austen's "Pride and prejudice" -- it has everything. I cannot think of any modern equivalents. The only good romances that westerners have made in cinema are adaptations of classics, such as Ang Lee's "Sense and sensibility".

Bronze Age Pervert
I've never read Jane Austen. My favorite romance novels are Stendhal's, Charterhouse of Parma and Red and the Black. I don't know of any novels after 1950 that capture the sense of romantic passion, other than Mishima's.

Ang Lee of course is Asian...but screwed up for example with Brokeback Mountain (bareback mounting) because the recourse to gay stuff is a cheap and artificial way to create "obstacles" and inspire a sense of longing; of course the movie had no longing, it had characters you didn't care about, and it had a shallow view of romance: if only there weren't laws against it those two men would have had a happy life together or some other idiocy like this.

The Asian movies I was thinking of are In the Mood for Love and 2046, by the same director (Wong Kar Wai).

I very much doubt that adaptations will work, because modern actors themselves have never really loved and it all comes across as shallow play-acting; also there is the moralistic desire to "preach" to the past, "If only you were as enlightened as we are, and knew that sex is no big deal, you would have been happier," but of course this isn't true.

Early 19th century England is the perfect setting for romance. Inter-class relationships between aristocratic heirs and bourgeois girls were plaged with obstacles, the ultimate challenge for true love. Austen (and Eliot, and the Bronte sisters, etc) were graced with living in the perfect epoch to apply their wondrous talent to. That's why their stories are so fresh even today.

Bob Dylan Roof

From a semi-Christian traditionalist perspective, Tolstoy's Family Happiness is an accurate portrait of the trajectory of romantic love. The book depicts the bloom of the wild and irrational passions associated with youthful, romantic love, the wilting and decline of those obsession, and the subsequent birth of the loyal and devoted familial love that preserves couples in monogamy.

As to the question in the subject, I wasn't even aware that novels were still possible until I recently met someone who preferred "21st-century literature."

please explain

As Tolstoy evolved into a radical humanist reformer, his views on sex and love evolved too. In The Kreutzer Sonata , published a few decades after Family Happiness , Tolstoy paints a futile and hopeless portrait of monogamous love. He calls into question not only the unrestrained sexual passions of youth, but also and especially the supposedly steadfast sexual loyalties of married men and women. The novel opens with a cynical rumination on 'true love' and then develops into a squalid tale of jealousy, adultery and murder, which Tolstoy intended as an allegorical argument against the possibility of sublimating 'carnal love' as e.g. through romance or the Christian institution of marriage. Michel from Houellebecq's Atomized is mentioned in connection with this book, as a possible key to decoding his asexual personality.

The reason why romantic passion is impossible in the modern age is, I think, because sublimation is now regarded as a waste of time, much as Tolstoy believed when he wrote The Kreutzer Sonata . Anti-body gnostics like Tolstoy and sexual liberators like Freud both agree on this point. Sublimation is dishonest and repressive; what we call 'love' is merely a fig leaf of desire. Since the direction of modern society is toward the elimination of obstacles to desire, there is no sublimation and therefore no romantic love. What remains is not love, but a banal exchange of fluids between interchangeable 'partners' (such a clinical term), which may or may not culminate in a 'collection of cells' known as a zygote. This is the depressing nihilism which lurks below the superficially appealing message of sexual liberation.


The seminal love story in the Western canon, as Anthony Ludovici observed, is Wuthering Heights. Its a classically structured tragedy that comes to the conclusion that genuine Romantic love is what animates men to sublime action but also is the source of their spiritual destruction. Bronte was exceedingly rare among women in that she apprehended that erotic love is primordial and not a foundation of society (in contrast to stories like Pride and Prejudice that reduce romance to a societal affair) - erotic love and coupling in fact precedes childbirth and parenting and familial rearing by thousands of milleniums. In its authentic expression its an instinct that predates what we know as the human experience of life and living. Which is why it was deliberately rendered synonymous with marriage and children (and later with ''happiness'') by cultural authorities who aimed to humanize it and make it manageable.

I disagree with the Pervert of the Bronze Age, both in his claim that romantic love is impossible through the lens of nihilism and existentialism and that literature and films that commemorate it are presently impossible. The tragedy of erotic love is more sharply endured by men in the present age than it has been in the past, precisely because rationalism will not abide it, and the man who seeks it out will find himself further alienated from his own circumstances, save for an inner-life fantasy of his own devising. This was most brilliantly portrayed in the film Solaris , in which a cosmonaut-scientist is marooned in the orbit of a malevolent and sentient planet, the alien intelligence of which aims to interface with his core humanness by constantly and incessantly haunting him with interactive hallucinations of his late beloved wife. The cosmonaut only escapes from this horrible psychological interrogation by repeatedly jettisoning his wife into space, and in doing so he can finally approach the alien on its own terms.

Romance in modern literature:
- Patriotism (Yukio Mishima)
- Wuthering Heights (Bronte, as mentioned)
-Journey to the End of the Night (Celine) - The character of Robinson opts to die by homicide in lieu of capitulating to the modern construction of ''love''
- Lancelot (Walker Percy)
-Women in Love and The Prussian Officer (DH Lawrence)

Romance in Films:
- Solaris (as mentioned)
-Legends of the Fall
- Mishima (Kyoko's House)
- Mean Streets
- Blade Runner


Excellent post, Thomas.

Bronze Age Pervert
But I would say that if you concede that love is sublimation, then Tolstoy and also the moderns are right. There is in fact no reason to sublimate...
It is a big mistake to concede that higher human endeavors are "sublimation" ...sublimation is indeed a waste of time.
Bronze Age Pervert
Of the books you mention only Lancelot is written after 1950; I already made an exception for Asian literature/movies, and especially for Mishima. I can't think of any recent novels worth reading at all, but especially none treating love adequately. As for movies, which is what I was really thinking about I'll have to watch some you mention again. I've seen all but Mean Streets and Kyoko's House and don't remember them affecting me in the romantic sense. One movie which did, now that you mention it, is the Japanese animation version of Metropolis (2001), which is a movie that moved me very much. I can't agree though that the tragedy of erotic love is endured or can be endured today in the full sense...there isn't anything to get in the way of it but there simply isn't the human material around...people with strong wills and passions are very few, most have pallid passions and are pissed-dry; lovers today are not moved by feelings of eternity and fatality when they look at each other. There is almost no one who can love in the 19th century romantic sense. I've had crushes and stayed up nights and have become obsessed and people think I'm crazy; I'm not sure what you're referring to when you talk about rationalism. Yes, if you are actually capable of having deep passions and are moved by them, there are no outlets and the situation is difficult, but this isn't enough to either have an affair or to give rise to a love story as material for art. I'm not even sure what a love story would look like in a modern society. I can name several recent depressing examples, and actually my post was going to be about this at first, a review of several failed movies about sex and romance. All of them try to devise contrived obstacles to the romance, but it's very artificial.

I think you could have a good love story maybe about incest, about a brother and a sister. This is a primal pairing.