Why ‘The Notebook’ is a Horrible Love Story

I know I’m well and truly late to the game, but with my boyfriend out of the house yesterday I grabbed some tissues and sat down to watch The Notebook for the first time. I wasn’t remotely expecting a spectacular film, but I have to admit to being a bit of a sucker for romance. On Saturday I thoroughly enjoyed watching Notting Hill. Amelie, Love Actually and Ever After are among my favourite films. I cried the first time I saw Wall-E. I enjoy cheesy tear-jerking love stories as much as the next sentimental sap. The Notebook is widely considered to be one of the most romantic films of the past decade, and so that is what I settled in to watch.

But what I was presented with was a horrible attempt at a romantic story.

It begins well enough; in a present day nursing home an elderly man named Duke (James Garner) visits his Alzheimer’s-suffering fellow resident (Gena Rowlands), and begins to read her a love story from a notebook…

Then, we flash back to the 1940s where a local boy, Noah Calhoun (Ryan Gosling), spots a beautiful girl, Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams) at a country carnival, and decides that he simply must have her. He asks her to dance, and she refuses. He asks her again, and she refuses again. Then, he sees her on the ferris wheel with another guy, and jumps onto the seat between them as the ride is raising them into the air. The operator stops the ride and tells Noah to get down, because only 2 people are allowed per seat. So, seizing an opportunity, he jumps up and grabs a bar of the structure, so that he is dangling stories above the ground with only his own muscular arms to stop him falling to a painful fate. He then asks the girl again if she would go out with him. She refuses again. So then, he threatens to let himself drop to the ground if she refuses to go out with him. Worse still, he forces her to shout repeatedly that she wants to go out with him.

THIS IS NOT ROMANTIC! It’s not romantic to get the hots for someone from across the room (although I acknowledge it’s common and can lead to real romance). It is not romantic to hound someone who turns you down. And it is DEFINITELY not romantic to threaten to harm or kill yourself if someone rejects you!

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I was somewhat relieved when she later refused again to go on a date with him. But then, of course, with the help of his friends she is tricked into going on a double date and they inexplicably fall in love. The kind of love where you can’t seem to stand the other person unless your tongue is crammed down their throat. The pair spend the rest of the summer together, kissing and arguing, and kissing and arguing amongst post-card beautiful scenery.

Now, the whole emotional-blackmail-love-me-or-watch-me-die thing was kind of a deal-breaker for me, and from then on there was not even a glimmer of hope that I would like this character. The rest of my insights may be somewhat tarnished by this, so I will keep my further rantings brief.

Other things that are NOT romantic about this film:

  • When Allie suggests that Noah move to New York to be with her, he DOESN’T drop everything and do it (despite having nothing but a labouring job tying him to the town, which he IS willing to ditch to enlist in the army, but not for love).
  • Although Noah wrote Allie a letter every day for a year, he doesn’t try to call her or go to the college to find her. Surely, after months of sending letters you would expect a reply, even if it said “Please stop sending me letters, you creep!” and when you didn’t receive a reply, you would assume that either; the letters are not reaching her, she is dead, or she is still in love with you and savours the letters. In any of these cases, the logical action would be to try to contact her another way.
  • Their “love story” does not mention the life they actually lived together (which must have been 40 years or more), or their children, or grandchildren. This suggests that the only romance was in the courtship, and it died once they got together.
  • Duke sneaking into the bedroom of a dementia patient who is very likely to not remember him, and should be horrified to find a stranger in her room in the middle of the night.

There was almost a sweet love story in this film, and it goes like this:

Injured in the war, Lon Hammond (James Marsden) is tended to by a beautiful nurse, Allie. Still in bandages and casts, he asks if she would go out with him when he recovers. She politely turns him down saying “lets just get you better first”. Months later, fully recovered, he tracks her down and asks her for a date once more. No stalking. No blackmail. And Allie is “surprised how quickly she fell in love with him”, perhaps because they actually got along. He’s playful and charming, he doesn’t boss her around, they don’t argue and he asks permission from her parents before proposing. Later, when his fiancé arrives unexpectedly at his office, he drops everything to hear what is stressing her. Even after she runs away to a country town, and admits to spending three days making love to her teenage sweetheart, he is understanding that it is difficult to forget your first love, and is willing to forgive her.

But instead of staying in a mutually respectful, loving relationship she decides she would rather go back to an “arrogant son of a bitch” who thinks she is a “pain in the ass” 99% of the time.

With all of the clichés that are thrust into our faces in this film, surely they could have at least made the fiancé a bad guy (or made her not love him) so that we might be able to make sense of why Allie would love a pushy, aggressive, creepy-obsessive guy instead.

I could go on with other things that bothered be about this film, like why her mother would sabotage the relationship when she regrets ditching her own blue-collar sweetie, or the lack of personality Allie seems to have even in her own retelling of her life, or how there seems to be almost no attempt to make the personalities of the elderly couple resemble their younger selves… but I think I will leave it there.

I thoroughly detested this story, so I have no choice but to give it 1 out of 5 stars.

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9 Comments to “Why ‘The Notebook’ is a Horrible Love Story”

  1. You clearly have never experienced love at all and defiantly
    don’t understand the movie!

    • Haha, I could say the same thing to you – YOU’VE clearly never experienced love at all, and definitely don’t understand the movie!… On a more serious note I hope that anyone who’s relationship is based on blackmail, manipulation and abuse (whether physical or emotional), instead of cherishing, support and mutual respect find their way out of that relationship and into a healthier one.

    • Yeah you have clearly never experienced healthy love if you think this is a normal love story.

  2. Love is messy, and you don’t always get to pick the person for whom you feel it. She wouldn’t be the first person in the world to leave a perfectly nice and stable partner for a more mysterious/alluring/dangerous/exciting one.

    Have you never been in that situation? Have you never been drawn to the excitement of someone bold, daring, and reckless? You’ve never been reckless yourself? You’ve never thrown caution to the wind, ignored your brain, and followed your heart, even if all logic tells you that you should stay where you are?

    • Sure, I’ve done those things. Although I suppose generally I’m on the less-reckless end of the scale.

      Anyway, I don’t think that those things address my criticism of this story. We have a serious problem with men feeling entitled to women, and using emotional blackmail to manipulate them and we shouldn’t be romanticising that kind of behaviour.

      • You’re absolutely right, but you have to keep in mind that not every movie is trying to make a statement, and not every movie is trying to make social change or is concerned with social progress. Right or wrong, some movies are simply a reflection of the society we live in and the values we represent – and many women in our society do indeed find that romantic, as evidenced by the overwhelming popularity of this book and movie.

      • I totally agree with you here. But I also think that that is exactly why it’s so important for people (like me) to draw attention to these kinds of issues in pop culture so that people talk about these issues and maybe help foster social change.

        I certainly know I’m also guilty of enjoying movies that reflect less than desirable values! This particular film clearly struck a cord for me, but I’m not going to think any less of those who do enjoy it (I can at least appreciate the aesthetic appeal).

        I’m glad to have sparked some though and conversation for some people.

  3. I COMPLETELY agree with you. It was so cliche and the fact that they were nothing alike and always were fighting didn’t say “true love” to me. I like romance stories where the people have a real understanding between each other, whether they have to grow into having one (like Darcy and Lizzy) or otherwise. I DO NOT like obsessive, crazy-about-each-other relationships.

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