Tuesday, December 30, 2014

John Carney hates love…or does he?


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.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this personal writeup, Andrew. This is one of your best posts.

    Very interesting take on these endings. The one for 'Once' still devastates me, but I think the conclusion of 'Begin Again' is just right. It felt positive and optimistic to me.

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    1. Thanks Shane, I appreciate that.

      'Once' is certainly harder to take than 'Begin Again', even still, but there was something about seeing it again, this time on the stage, this time with my wife, that made it all fit into place in a way I hadn't seen before.

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  2. Beautiful post! I'm glad you wrote all of this. Personally, I'm okay with the way Once and Begin Again ended too. Would I have objected to the Hollywood ending that I actually wanted? No, but I like that he dared to be a little different.

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    1. Yes, I'm all for an un-Hollywood ending every once in a while. We need those splashes of reality. There is a purity to the way that Carney crafts these relationships. They feel honest.

      Also, thank you so much for the re-Tweet :-D

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  3. No, it could not be that 'we are focusing on the love stories'. A whore cheats on her husband and abandons him during his mental breakdown. She doesn't deserve a second chance. That ending is absolutely awful. Some people do not deserve second chances and no, not all the relationships are hard. Sometimes they can be easy, supportive and not based on 'well we already have so much past, let's not throw it away'. Carney doesn't understand love. He wouldn't know pure, uncomplicated kind of love if it smack him in the face which it did with Gretta and Dan. That's why the ending is so completely implausible. He made that man a coward for not having the guts to admit that the part of his life that was marriage failed and is not worth saving because his wife was a A grade bitch. No amount of words is gonna convince me Carney knows anything about love.

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    1. We obviously all have different personal experiences that shape the way we look at things.

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  4. Fisti, thanks for sharing such a touching and personal story and relating it to film. My husband and I married young, so we've been married for 13 years, going on 14 years in March 2015. We had our first child 12 years into our marriage. Long marriages are truly incredible, and a test of everything you mentioned in your post. Sometimes a long term marriage can not only have a few bad months, but a few bad years. Ultimately, hopefully the good outweighs the bad. I haven't seen 'Begin Again,' or 'Once,' but I can understand why some people are disappointed with the ending in 'Begin Again,' but sometimes that's the more realistic ending.

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    1. Yes, the ending, for me, made complete sense.

      So happy for you and your family! 14 years is incredible. It's sad how many marriages fail, and so soon these days. Some days, weeks, months, years are hard...but so worth it!

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  5. Excellent post man! Always love it when you draw from personal experience to discuss film. And what lovely films you chose to discuss!

    I agree that these endings work better, even if we obviously want both Guy/Girl and Dan/Gretta to get together. They're two bittersweet, beautiful endings, and they work so well.

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    1. Thanks man! I feel like films become so much richer when you can tie them into your own personal experience. Watching 'Once' again, I almost feel compelled to call it the best film of 2007...and it's 4th place on my current Fisti ballot.

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    2. At one point, I considered Once my favorite film of all time. It was my Best Picture winner until I saw Diving Bell, which was WAY after the Oscar ceremony.

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    3. I really like Diving Bell, but I don't love it. UGH, Once has been running through my mind since I wrote this post, and it isn't leaving!

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  6. Well done, Andrew. The ending of Once doesn't feel tragic to me. I actually still think there's a chance that the Guy and Girl will eventually be together. I may be optimistic, but the events in the movie feel like the first steps for them. Neither have closure with their past relationships (and it may never happen), but they've made the decision to figure out where they stand. It's positive and believable and doesn't strike a false note for me. I'd rather it end that way then have them walk into the sunset, forgetting their former loves. That doesn't really work given the tone of the movie.

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    1. Yeah, I think some are stuck on that Hollywood 'everything ends perfect' type ending, and that just isn't life. Carney strikes two very realistic and honest notes with these films, and I'm moved by that. Real love isn't about fairy tales and perfection, real love is about realizing the worth through every trial and making an effort to work for it. It doesn't always work out in the end, but real love TRIES!

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  7. Great post, man. I absolutely devoured this.

    I wish I could speak to Once, but I still have yet to see it. As for Begin Again, well, obviously I'm with you on the ending. As much as I didn't want Dan to get back with his wife (partly due to my irrational dislike of 99% of Keener's characters), I think it was a brilliant way to end the film, even if I'm basically with Brittani on it (I wouldn't have minded had it gone the other way).

    I think getting back together (and/or staying together) is about as commendable as anything someone could do. It's very, very easy to break things. But fixing them? And making sure they stay fixed? Impressive, man. Good for you.

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    1. Thanks man, and I hope you see 'Once'...it's just incredible.

      I remember distinctly saying to my wife, "we can separate and work on ourselves with other people, or we can work on ourselves together...either way we have to work on ourselves" and that's really how I see it.

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  8. Very profound and moving. You can truly relate to these films from your own personal experience. If someone says they had an idyllic marriage/relationship, they are looking through rose coloured glasses. Marriage is hard work and takes unbelievable patience and determination. Sometimes, the relationships do not work but that doesn't mean people do not grow from it or find happiness. I was with someone for 16 years and it didn't work out. Is it unhappy? At that moment, yes but now, we are great friends and he comes over and my current hubby and my ex get along well. You wrote something special and it resonates

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    1. Thank you so much for those kind works, Birgit. That means a lot to me. Experience is a great thing for us all, even bad experience, because we can learn and grow from it. It's inspiring to hear about the current relationship you have and how you and your ex have been able to grow despite your parting.

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  9. Happy Belated Anniversary Drew!! We celebrated our 11th anniversary last year, going on 12th now. That’s cool that you saw ONCE on stage, I actually never seen the film either. But I LOVE Begin Again and I have the same feeling as you about the ending, it’s actually refreshing that they didn’t end up together.

    Oh I love your description about that film… "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.” Yes, absolutely, and that’s what I love about it. I kinda skipped over the spoiler stuff on Once as I’d like to see it one day. I think you’re right that Carney seems to understand the intricacy of love, at least in cinematic form.

    Love your personal and heartfelt writeup Drew, may God continue to bless your marriage for the long haul!!

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    1. Congrats to you, too! Relationships that last this long really are worth fighting for. I hope you get to see Once. It truly is a beautiful and moving film.

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  10. Man, this is a beautiful post. Thank you. Relationships are hard and don't always work as planned. That's the beauty of Once. I haven't seen Begin Again yet (but definitely will now), so I sort of skimmed over some of your discussion of it. I will revisit this post after I see it. But your claims in the end about Carney are true. Once definitely is a true depiction of the power of love from a man who truly understands it.

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    1. YES! It really took the experiences of my life to make me realize just how much he gets it. I hope you get to see Begin Again soon. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the film.

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    2. Hey, man. I just watched Begin Again. I promised I would return when I saw it. I LOVE the fact that Carney chooses to not fall into the typical Hollywood ending. That's, like I said, a man who has found and lost love and found it again and so on. Begin Again certainly has more of that overly nice ending than Once, even if they don't end up together. I prefer Once, probably because of the use of "unknowns" and the story that followed with them falling in love for real and touring together. I actually saw The Swell Season in concert. It was incredible. Anyway, loved this post. This is exactly the kind of thing I like to do with my writing. Make connections in any way possible. That's what good movies and literature are all about.

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    3. YAY, glad you came back after seeing Begin Again, and thank you so much for the compliments on the post, it means a lot.

      Very cool that you saw Swell Season in concert. I used to listen to their music practically on loop back in the mid-late aughts.

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  11. I love this and totally agree that both films are beautiful. That at-first devastating end of Once is what makes the film so perfect, and puts it in the company of such classics as Casablanca, Brief Encounter, etc. The ending of Begin Again is also so completely right for the tone of that film - the nice quiet little moments we share with loved ones are the ties that truly bind.

    Once on stage is, if possible, even more brilliant than the film. It becomes impossibly intimate, a real feat in a Broadway theater. The Act One finale still sends chills down my spine with its beauty, and the decision to subtitle Girl's declaration of love makes the end even more resonant. I loved it so much I saw it thrice.

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    1. YES! The stage version was just so remarkably done, and I loved the subtitled 'I love you' too...so tender, so perfect.

      Thank you so much for stopping by :-D

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  12. This is one of the most touching things I've ever read you know. I'm so glad everything worked out for you in the end.
    Blogging head back on, this is such weird timing because I watched Begin Again and Once for the first time within a week, and came to very similar conclusions as you did. I was really happy with the ending of Begin Again, but Once left me empty inside and I just sort of watched the credits with a sad look on my face.
    However, after reading your own personal story and the comparison to Guy and Girl, I've found peace with it and now I realise how it truly was a happy ending!
    - Allie

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    1. Awww, thank you so much, Allie!

      I'm glad that this could give you some different perspective on the Once ending. I had the same reaction when I first saw it, but it was seeing it under that different light, under those different circumstances, that gave it such richer meaning!

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  13. I really liked this. Well done, Fisti. Thank you for sharing it with me - and thanks for the comment on my blog!

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    1. Glad you liked this, and you're very welcome :-D

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