The classic scene in An Affair to Remember starring Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, one of my all time best movies, has never worked for me. Let me set it up for you: Deborah and Cary, each involved with other lovers, meet on a ship and fall in love (8 meals a day, drinks included can do that sort of thing to people I suppose. Not to mention endless shuffleboard.) They vow to test their love by agreeing to meet 6 months later at the top of the Empire State Building. They agree that if one does not show up, the one that does will not search the other out for it will mean that their love was not true.
As the ship docks, each prepares to meet on that day for they each believe their love to be pure and right. During the next six months, each ends their involvement with their other person and, at the appointed time, Cary Grant is on the top of the Building. On her way to meet her true beloved, Ms. Kerr gets hit by a passing car and is taken to the hospital where the doctors tell her she is paralyzed from the waist down. (Her makeup remains intact.) Cary Grant is of course deeply disappointed and during the rest of Act 2 is despondent. He believed they were destined for each other but now believes she did not believe so. Of course, we know that she deeply loves him but, out of ego, pride, weakness, vows that she will not go to him until she can walk.
The scene to which I refer takes place at the end of Act 2 when they meet at a theater event. Ms. Kerr is seated because he does not know she is paralyzed. They stare at each other, mutter some politeness, are visibly shaken since they are still in love but neither says anything about the failed meeting. More specifically, since Cary was there waiting for her, it is in the nature of the story for Deborah to explain and yet she remains silent, mute, no matter how many times I see the movie.
Now I understand the plot very well indeed and I understand the character traits that would cause her to behave in that way. She was afraid that he might love her out of pity or that she was less of a woman because she could not walk. I understand but I cannot accept it. For many people, love is a light weight affair, to be ruled not by the heart but by the head, the ego. But I am much too much of a romantic to accept this key plot point. For me, the theme of every movie, of life, must be "Love Conquers All." For me, when they meet in the theater, she must grab his hand, tears must well up in her eyes (being careful not to smudge the mascara) and she must explain why she did not show up and proclaim her everlasting love for him. She must say: "I love you Cary. I thought I loved Richard Denning but what I thought was love is nothing compared to the love between you and I." He must immediately understand and they must go off into the sunset together, he wheeling her in her chair. This ending of course would make for a considerably shorter movie but it would be true to what I believe the universe is about. Or should be about.
The heart, God, is not about pride, nor ego, nor vanity; it is about love. It is not about love at such a low level that mind games carry the day. It is not about shallow love but love at such a deep, profound, spiritual, passionate level that the ego wilts, dies in the presence of this kind of love. But for many people, the fear that is the essence of the ego, that which motivated Deborah's character, overrules the passion that is the heart. Love is about the death of ego for in order that we may truly love, we must allow ourselves to be loved.
"Allowing ourselves to be loved is very much a different matter from loving. It is not simply the other side of the same coin. Allowing ourselves to be loved by another requires us, from the outset, to be completely out of control and vulnerable. It requires us to break down all of the walls that, for so many years of our lives, we have struggled to erect to keep us from feeling the very thing we say we want to feel. The Tao calls it "ego". It means that we must expose our complete selves to our lover, our mate, for without such total openness what is being called love is something else but it is not love." (Tao of Love, p. 63)It is perhaps the most difficult of all experiences in our lives to lose our ego when in love. Love is so all encompassing, so far reaching in its impact upon us, so much wanted and yet feared by so many of us, that allowing ourselves the joy, along with the fear, is the ultimate in losing the ego.
At the end of the movie, love indeed does conquer all. She overcomes her ego, tells him about her paralysis, whereupon he finds a piece of art he had painted that she secretly bought, a symbol of their love and he accepts her in his arms, her eyeliner still remaining intact.
Music up, fade out.
© 1994 Ivan Hoffman
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