Monday, February 14, 2005

A Walk I Won't Soon Forget

Last night I watched the movie A Walk to Remember. I’ve seen it before, both on the big screen and on DVD. But I hadn’t dusted it off in a while and felt this urge to watch it. Man. I’m still reeling. It’s one of those movies that haunts me for days. Lingers in the corners of my mind, able to evoke raw emotion that makes everyone around me ask if I’m alright when I tear up out of the blue. And, IMO, it represents one of the purist romantic stories out there.

Before I go any further, I’ll warn you that this entry contains SPOILERS, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want the full impact, don’t read after the spoiler warning. I’ll put the spoiler stuff in italics – don’t read the italics.

When AWTR was in the theatres, it was one of those love it/hate it movies. The critics absolutely panned it. Hated it for a sappy melodrama that pulled heartstrings so exploitively the mafia had to be involved. I happened to be in the camp that loved it. I hadn’t read the book the movie was based on (A Walk to Remember, written by Nicholas Sparks), so when I sat down in the theatre, having picked it as the only movie playing that night that had even the remotest appeal to me, I had no idea what I was in for. When I left a little less than two hours later, dazed and heartsick, I couldn’t believe what a treasure I’d found.

For a brief summary for those of you who have no idea whatsoever what the movie is about, Landon Carter is a high school bad-boy with a good heart. After a stupid prank – and let me interrupt here a minute. That stupid prank is what opens the film, and sitting through it, I groaned out loud thinking “Oh, god. Not another stupid teenager flick!” Believe me, this movie is not another stupid teenager flick. Back to the summary…after a stupid prank gets him in trouble, Landon is made to join the drama club and to do some community service work as punishment. Through these two activities, he comes in direct contact with Jamie Sullivan, the goody-goody preacher’s daughter he’s known and disdained all of his life. Turns out Jamie is every bit as good as she puts forth, and for reasons beyond Landon’s understanding, he finds himself drawn to this confident girl. Things progress and Landon has fallen in love. Deeply. Purely. And this love brings out the best in him. He changes his bad-boy ways, wanting for Jamie to be a better person. He becomes Dream Boyfriend.

The best part about this movie is how well it showed Landon’s growth from an obnoxious party-boy only concerned with himself into a guy who cares so much for his girlfriend that he puts himself through pretty much a living hell to be with her. I have to give major, major kudos to actor Shane West, who really made Landon come alive for me. His eyes spoke volumes during many key moments in the movie, and he neatly sidesteps what could have been a teen heartthrob vehicle to infuse Landon with a realism that still haunts me.

As for Jamie (played by Mandy Moore), she is, to a certain degree, a one-note character. She’s good at the beginning of the movie and she’s just as good at the end. (In fact, one point of annoyance I had with the movie was Jamie’s easy acceptance of her preacher father’s dictatorial rules (no dating) and overbearing manner with Landon. I wanted her to stand up to him and tell him to lay off. This frustration was compounded when I learned some things about Jamie later in the movie that made her father's actions both more understandable but also, to a degree, more unforgivable.) While that could be a bad thing, IMO this movie isn’t really about Jamie, it’s about Landon and his journey into adulthood. Jamie is the catalyst. She doesn’t need to be more than she is, so it’s easy to excuse any lack of depth. Besides, what’s there is plenty enough. She’s good, but she’s not perfect. She’s not cloyingly sweet. She’s a better person than Landon and that’s what she needs to be.

Beyond the characters, what makes this movie so good for me is the pure romance it contains. When Jamie and Landon fall in love, it is the real deal. Since these two are only eighteen at the time of the story, it would be so easy to write their love off as the test drive. The puppy love, it’ll never survive college, teenage hormones run-amuck variety. But it’s not.

One demonstration of this (and this warrants an entire blog entry, believe me) is the lack of sex between these two kids. Jamie is a virgin. The hard-core, wait-until-I’m-married kind of virgin. No convincing this girl - she will not change her mind. Landon is a popular kid, surrounded by sweet young things who look more than willing to give it up for him. But Landon never pushes Jamie. He’s more than happy with the fairly chaste kisses they share. His feelings for her transcend what has to be the near earth-moving forces of normal teenage male sex drive. Not that all teenage boys are horn-dogs without the ability to see beyond it. Just that it is such a non-issue for Landon, it has to mean something.

OK, here’s the SPOILER PART. If you want this movie to be a surprise…stop reading.

Another big component of this romance that makes is so perfect is Landon’s willingness to stay with Jamie after he learns a horrible thing about her. You see, Jamie is sick. Very sick. So sick, in fact, that she is dying. When Landon learns this, the heartbreak in his eyes is so intense that you have to be without a heart not to be affected by it (and here’s more mad props to Shane West). Clearly this news devastates him – the girl he loves is dying. What he could do, to save his own tender heart, is to run as far away as he can. Cut himself off and try to minimize the damage. After all, he’s young. They don’t have a long history together, and he has a whole life ahead of him to help him forget about her. The less contact he has now, the more shallow the cut.

But Landon doesn’t leave. He stays with her. Until the bitter end. He suffers probably the hardest thing we humans have to endure – the loss of a love one to an untimely disease – because he’d rather have those few months of the real thing with Jamie. He walks through hell, a hell that doesn’t end with her death because he will always carry the scars of his love and loss, and he does this willingly. If that isn’t a pure love, I don’t know what else is.

End of spoiler.

I highly recommend this movie. Yes, it has moments of melodrama. But it is honestly one of the best examples of the kind of romance that truly moves me. I mean it. I’ll be haunted for days by this. It’s the kind of romance I’d love to be able to capture and infuse into all of my books, the level of love I want all of my characters to feel and reach. It’s the ultimate redemption story, of love having the power to change people.

As a side bar, Alison Kent's column for today's Romancing the Blog discusses romantic moments in movies. I love this kind of stuff. I kind of touched on this in my Top 10 Probably Un-PC Hero Gestures, but she’s inspired me to do a Top 10 favorite movie moments blog. Yeah, yeah, I know. I’d be borrowing again!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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