So, last week my wife and I celebrated eleven years of marriage. For our anniversary, we went to see a local production of the latest Broadway smash (I say latest, but, like, it’s been out for a while now), ‘Once’. Now, my wife had never seen the film, which I laud as one of the greatest musicals of our generation, and so she was walking into this show completely blind. All the banners were proclaiming this the most romantic stage experience and so my wife was expecting something that I, having seen the film, was not. My memories of the conclusion to ‘Once’, while never derailing my affection for the finished product, have haunted me. Most recently, due to Sati’s elaborate posts on ‘Begin Again’ and her vocal disgust over the climax, I have been thinking more and more heavily about the conclusion to ‘Once’, and having the stage experience fresh in my mind, I have come around to a different understanding of these events and these conclusions.
It’s all about the eyes with which you see things.
You see, while watching ‘Begin Again’ recently (and for the first time), I was never heartbroken over the ending. In fact, I was smothered with this feeling of happiness. It felt right. It felt pure. Despite my memories of a depressing conclusion to ‘Once’, I found that my feeling upon leaving the theatre the other night was that same blossoming happiness.
And then it hit me.
When I saw ‘Once’, back in 2007, I was four years into a marriage that was serviceable at best. I fought with my wife all the time. We had nothing in common. We were at odds about nearly everything, and I felt like I was living in a tight-box with no room to breathe and no out in sight. It just felt consuming, and not in a good way. The idea of sharing that spark, that common ground with another soul and then losing them was crushing. Guy and Girl (as they are known in the film, since they are not given names) are so right for each other, so ‘meant to be’, that their inevitable parting just felt tragic and unacceptable. WHY CAN’T THIS HAVE A HOLLYWOOD ENDING?!?! About a year later, my wife and I separated. While on the outset, I was relieved and saw a new start to my life, it hit me in ways I didn’t expect. The tight-box I had been living in only got tighter. It’s a strange feeling to be staring at pictures, filtering through memories, fighting against emotions and then realize that it’s not worth losing the good just because things are hard. Life is hard. Marriage is HARD, but nothing worth having is easy, right? This is something you’re supposed to know already, and yet you really don’t know it till you’re sitting alone in a house that once held voices and life and was now hollow, empty and haunted by stories you don’t want to listen to anymore.
John Carney knows this.
For me, ‘Begin Again’ is the perfect title to use to express Carney’s point with these films and these romances. These stories are about just that, beginning all over again. While both films focus on a budding relationship between two lost souls, the rebirth of love, life and joy are not about these relationships at all but about the ones they have left behind.
Begin again suggest something you’ve already done.
In ‘Once’, Guy is devastated over the separation between he and his longtime girlfriend who recently left him for New York. Girl has moved to Dublin with her young daughter and her mother, while her husband has opted to stay behind in Czechoslovakia. Both Guy and Girl are emotionally crushed due to their current relationship status, but through their love of music and the souls that they use to embody that music, they are pulled into each other and their broken spirits are reawakened. In ‘Begin Again’, Gretta is shattered after her rock star boyfriend’s ego pushes her away, and his philandering heart moves on. Dan, once a successful man/father/husband/businessman, has thrown away everything after separating from his wife. Again, through music and the deepness, richness even, of their love for it, they are reminded of the life they are wasting.
Yes, Gretta and Dan/Guy and Girl are kindred spirits. Yes, their love is honest, pure and real. Yes, we, the audience, desperately want them to end up together because it feels so right.
But they don’t, and honestly I’m so happy they don’t.
So, let’s talk a little about that period in my life where I was separated from that woman who I had grown to desire separation from. About three months after our separation, my wife came over, my young daughter trailing behind her, and we talked. My daughter slept soundly in the bed we used to share, and we sat on the floor of our bedroom and talked, and talked, and talked and eventually decided that that promise to love one another, good and bad, till death does us part, was important. We decided that the life we’d built, while tumultuous and unsteady, was important. We decided that our love story wasn’t over yet.
We decided to begin again.
During the climax of ‘Once’, after declaring love to one another, Girl informs Guy that her husband has contacted her and that he wants to make things work. He’s coming to Dublin to be with her and their daughter. Guy is emotionally wounded, but she prods him to go to New York, to get closure, to finish (or resume) his love story. During the climax for ‘Begin Again’, we see Dan sitting on a park bench with his ex-wife, sharing his ‘playlist’ with her and, doing just as the title suggests, beginning again; and while Gretta decides that reconciliation with Dave is not in her sights, she walks out of his concert with a renewed understanding of self and a feeling of closure needed for her to do the same. While the love stories we are focusing on throughout these films don’t work out how we expect, could it be that we are focusing on the wrong love stories?
As Guy gets on a plane to reunite with the girl who broke his heart, or Girl’s estranged husband swoops up their daughter and kisses her on the forehead or Dan’s ex-wife taps her foot and leans in for a kiss or even as Gretta strolls off alone, on her bike, a smile on her face, it is clear to me that John Carney does not hate love, he understands it.