February 17, 2009

We All Have Paper Hearts

Suppositions on the Nature of Love:

A recent film, review from the 2009 Sundance Film Festival of Paper Heart (directed by Nicholas Jasenovec) starring experimental comedienne, Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up) and her real-life boyfriend, actor Michael Cera (Juno, Superbad) brought up an interesting supposition on the nature of love.

I use the film itself and the review, as mere starting point on the topic. Paper Heart is structured as a mock documentary (a la This is Spinal Tap or any film by Christopher Guest) that weaves in real interview-style, documentary footage with acted out scenes that are scripted, outlined or improvised but not “real”. The film and very meta film-within-a-film feel like commentary on the conceptual and contextual structure of love.

Slashfilm editor Peter Sciretta’s film review articulates on the "structure" of love represented by the ending of the film, that is, one must truly sacrifice something very meaningful, important and precious to oneself as the ultimate demonstration of one's true love. The actual sacrifice or gesture may vary but essentially must be defined by giving up something meaningful in order to be happy, happy in love with your partner. This act is the basis that precipitates or lays the groundwork for love. Without this penultimate experience, love is not love, apparently or at least not the accepted notion explored here. Often what you must give up ends up having to do with your falling in love in the first place. You must give up something that led or aided that love.

Charlyne and Michael play fictional versions of themselves. In the film, Charlyne who has never been in love and is skeptic on the subject of true love sets out to film a pure documentary about love and this footage is inter-cut into the film’s narrative of her making the documentary within the film. As a result of her film and its journey, she meets and starts a romantic relationship with Michael. This relationship starts to conflict with the documentary and her relationship with the film’s director in the film (not in real life).

Evidently, audiences are left wondering what in the film is real and what is not when they should probably assume nothing is “real” per se but at least genuine in some matter. Charlyne’s new relationship with Michael in the film is juxtaposed with her on-screen friendship with the film-within-a-film’s director (played by an actor portraying the actual director of the film we are watching). The film’s actual director, Nicholas Jasenovec, is played on screen by Jake Johnson. I know it’s confusing. Often to pursue romantic relationships we must leave behind other ones. What is love? What does it entail?

Although I have not yet seen the film, I was utterly fascinated by Sciretta’s dissection of the film’s ending and how it related to discovering new love and what one must give up or sacrifice for the chance at love. Spoiler alert: I am about to discuss the film’s abrupt ending and its reflection on the analysis discussed above. Charlyne, the character that is, decides to suddenly end her film (within the film) in order to pursue her relationship her Michael as the filming of her documentary on love which led her to find Michael is having an adverse effect on their budding romance.

The ultimate sacrifice is her giving up on the entire basis of her journey, in this case the film-within-a-film. Somewhat inconveniently in the world of the fictional film, to find out if true love or rather “real” love exists, she must abandon her actual concept of the journey, which is her documentary on the subject. She can no longer proceed on the current narrative and must move on to see if this whole love thing jives in her world. This does not sound altogether cinematic as a sudden fade to black is rather unsatisfying, but thematically and narrative it works. The end is rather risky, ambiguous, and unknown much like the concept of love.

The film apparently becomes more and more self-aware as the narrative moves forward and the Charlyne’s relationship with Michael progresses on screen and the audience starts to wonder in actuality what it is they are really watching. What part of any of the love we see on screen is real? What does real love even look like for that matter?

Note: Revised and expanded from previous article, posted January 19, 2009.

Source | Slashilm / Trailer

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