Monday, July 02, 2007

Once (Carney, 2006)

On the streets of Dublin, a man plays a guitar that has seen so much use that it looks as if it could collapse inward upon itself at any moment. Initially, he seems like just another wannabe folkie, the kind that might be likely to irritate you in the later hours of a good party. Most of us would simply walk on by, catching a few seconds of his tune and this nothing more about him. However, because this is a film, we are forced to pay attention, to listen to his music unfold and build towards an impressive crescendo. Skepticism turns to empathy and admiration as we observe the investment the man has in his music, the sincerity and passion that he pours into his performance. The reception he receives on the street is less than enthusiastic. Only one person, a young Czech woman has stopped to appreciate his talents. Despite her praise, he is somewhat disheartened when the she is much more excited to discover that he is a vacuum-repairman by day and might possibly be able to aid her with a problem Hoover.

After this adorable meeting, you probably think that you know how the rest of the film will likely unfold. Chances are though, that you are wrong. As it turns out, she is a gifted musician as well. Although she cannot afford a piano of her own, she enjoys playing one of the display models in the local shop. He listens to her play and soon they are playing one of his songs together. The moment is magical and in his mind, he sees her as the cure for his loneliness and depression. He pushes – too hard – for a tangible connection. She, on the other hand, is in no mood (or perhaps no position) to rush into a whimsical romance. Still, she sees a way to assist him and perhaps even give him the sense of fulfillment and self-worth that he has been craving, albeit in a different way that he may have initially desired.

Often romantic comedies can seem to be written by people whose ideas about male-female relationships and courting never evolved beyond their high school prom. Their hijinks typically revolve around someone who frets over whether or not they will be able to find “the one”. And because they believe that there is one and only one person that will fill their lives with happiness, any amount of immature, selfish, idiotic behavior is justified in pursuit of their end goal. Once is a film that truly understands that attraction between intelligent men and women is really much more complicated than that. The truth is that it is possible to meet people throughout our lives that excite us and help elevate us in satisfying ways. This is a film in which two adults attracted to each other have to make grown-up decisions and not simply follow their impulses. Ultimately, writer/director John Carney leaves his characters with fates that fall well short of their wildest dreams. And yet, this does not mean, on the other hand, that he drags them through misery and despair. Instead they find themselves with unexpected rewards because each has mindful of the needs of the other. Together, they exemplify the idea that true love is in helping the beloved to be the most happy, the most fulfilled, the most satisfied that they can be.



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