From platonic love to romance, from raiders to terminators, find out why our favorite films are really stories about love.
All of your favorite action films are really about love and romance. In other words, you might have come for the plot, but you stay for the theme and characters. This is why you would be apocalyptic as a movie buff if someone told you they'd never heard of the original Raiders of the Lost Ark but wouldn't break a sweat if King Solomon's mines missed their radar.
Both films came out in the early 80s. Both films were action-adventure stories set in hostile times in exotic parts of the world and involving rival Germans. But Raiders cemented Harrison Ford's great fame, spawning three sequels and even Lego sets. So why did it stop when King Solomon's mines were parodyed? Character development and theme.
We introduce your characters
The eight-page dialogue scene between Erica and Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Image via Sony Pictures.
If I were to tell you that Aaron Sorkin has the courage to write an eight-page dialogue scene to open up the social network, it wouldn't be unexpected. Guess what? Lawrence Kasdan in Raiders too. It's Marian's introduction. And just like Sorkin is building that scene with Erica at the start of social networking so that you really, really get what drives Zuckerberg, fuels his needs, and exposes his flaws – Kasdan does it with Indiana Jones. Marian reveals his flaws, sets his goals and teases his desires. Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark dare to have an eight-page dialogue scene that not only manages to give us a purposeful backstory, but also (literally) starts with a slap in the jaw! What a way to show us that these two people have a complicated history and a passionate relationship.
You may think of the boulder moving towards him, the Nazis are losing their flesh or the hat and whip, but it is the personal connection, responsibility and love that Indy has for Marian that interests us. It is shown over and over in the script in both small and large ways. Setup: Indy hates snakes? Put Marian in a snake pit and discover that he cares more about her than his fear of snakes. Structure: Indy as a patriot and renowned archaeologist? Let him be ready to sacrifice ownership of the ark for its safety. The man who seduces his mentor's young daughter and has abandoned her in search of scientific discovery develops into matters of the heart rather than material or physical things and finds a form of spirituality.
Reese traverses time to meet and protect Sarah Connor in The Terminator. Image via Orion Pictures.
Ready for your next chick flick? What could be more romantic than crossing time to be reunited with the woman you've never met and only seen in a picture? No, not anywhere in time. I'm talking about The Terminator!
Arnold may have the line, "I'll be back," but audiences aren't coming back through six movies and a TV series because of a killing machine. It's all like that because Sarah Connor is a character we can identify with – an ordinary person who gets into an impossible situation of awe and responsibility and faces the occasion. We love her just as Reese loves her and goes back in time to protect her. How many of us would wish that someone who knows our future selves would come back in time to warn our present selves of impending adversity and remind them, “There is no fate, but what we do for ourselves. You have to be stronger than you can imagine. "
Thank you James Cameron for literally giving us the subject in the message that John Reese memorized to tell Sarah. And don't tell me that note can't be the voice-over and crack of Angela Bassett walking away from the campfire while waiting for the exhale!
The John McClane Way
John McClane's original goal of reuniting with his wife turns into a life-threatening situation in Die Hard. Image via 20th Century Fox.
It's one thing to fight Nazis and time travel for love, but nothing says Hallmark Christmas quite like getting on a plane with a giant teddy bear on Christmas Eve to save your marriage like Die Hard. I get it! There's Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman as one of the most delicious baddies of all time), machine guns, detonators and helicopters explode and the corpses of skyscrapers, FBI agents and broken glass!
But let's break down when John McClane can finally work out a successful plan to defeat Gruber and his cheerful gang of thieves. After its low point. After he couldn't stop the killing of the amiable Mr. Takagi or Smarmy Ellis. After failing to convince the FBI to help him. After Gruber showed how clever he was, he shot the glass under McClane's feet. Its low point. He thinks he's lost. He pulls broken glass from his bloody feet and speaks on the phone with his only ally, an LA beat cop with a traumatizing backstory. And McClane says, "I've told my wife a million times that I love her, but I've never said I was sorry."
Only when he can make that admission, that emotional breakthrough, will he have the mental clarity to see something about Gruber's real intentions and keep the party people from getting blown up on the roof. Every action he takes supports his goal – reunification with his wife.
Dom and Brian's platonic love turned into a multitude of Fast and Furious films. Image via Universal Pictures.
Here is the snack. Great storytelling is about complex characters that are flawed yet redeemable. You want something meaningful. And although you face obstacles and complications, you overcome the conflict by turning yourself into a more capable version of yourself. They can win, they can lose, but if you give the audience a meaningful reason to motivate your main character (and what's really more meaningful than love), you'll never get bored of them. You will come to a truthful, satisfying ending.
Oh, and that goes for platonic love too. Here's a look at you, Dom and Brian. I think there are fourteen Fast and Furious films that now prove the eternal power of love.
Cover photo via Paramount Pictures.