Monday, April 27, 2009

Stalking in Seattle?

A first-time viewer (congratulations!) was sharing her impressions of Sleepless In Seattle with me recently, and she raised an objection to Annie Reed's conduct in the film: "Isn't she kind of a stalker?"

Well, yes and no.

Yes, Annie Reed goes to some lengths to track down Sam Baldwin and his son, but I would argue that her actions only seem extreme because she has the means to conduct a more thorough search because of her profession.

At first, Annie is satisfied to write a letter to Sam and Jonah, as hundreds of women across the country have done. She throws away her letter and attempts to forget about the whole thing, but a viewing of An Affair to Remember and a conversation with her friend Becky, followed by some pier-side soul-searching (paired with Sam's dockside contemplation in a wonderful bit of editing) leave her convinced that she can't move on yet. And unlike the other women who are convinced that they are meant to be with Sam Baldwin, Annie is a reporter and knows how to track people down.

The next day at her office, she makes some phone calls to get Sam and Jonah's last name (unknown by her until this point) and searches a database of national newspapers for mentions of a Sam and Jonah Baldwin, eventually determining that Sam Baldwin is an architect who formerly lived in Chicago and who lost his wife. She then faxes a request to a detective agency in Seattle to get a photograph of Sam.

This may seem extreme, but what if Sleepless In Seattle took place in the present Google-age? It wouldn't take much work nowadays, I'm sure, for anybody to figure out Sam and Jonah's last name and to find out where they lived. Maybe ten or fifteen minutes of Googling. If the movie took place in the present day, all those women with the inclination to find out more about Sam and Jonah would have been able to. Annie's actions only seem extreme because of the limited means she had access to. Rather than searching the Internet, she had to make a few (dishonest) phone calls; rather than a Google image search, she had to call a private detective.

But is Annie's conduct a violation of Sam's privacy? This gets tricky. I'm inclined to argue that it is not. As soon as Sam agreed to be interviewed on Dr. Marcia's radio show, he became emotionally involved—even if he was unaware of this involvement—with everybody listening to the show. To some extent, a relationship was formed. It's something to think about, now that impersonal communication has become even more widespread. What sort of relationship am I establishing with the people who read this blog? To what degree am I obliged to my readers emotionally? And to what extent are they indebted to me? Once communication extends beyond the face-to-face, the directly personal, what constitutes a relationship?

These are just some more big questions that Sleepless In Seattle raises and invites us to consider.

P.S. Though I object to the following "trailer"'s disrespectful treatment of Sleepless, I recognize that it might hold some comedic value for my readers. It is for them that I include it here:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Not About the Movies

Just a quick post here, because I have something to gripe about.

I was watching the special features on my DVD of Sleepless In Seattle recently, and included with the special features is a behind-the-scenes documentary of sorts. It's nice enough, but something about it annoyed me. Again and again, people involved with the film talked about how the movie was a celebration of movie-style love. To me, this is a gross over-simplification of the film. It cheapens the story's emotional impact and denies it the possibility of having anything meaningful to say about life as we live it.

If the movie works only because it is a celebration of love in the movies, then it's nothing more than a rehearsing of An Affair to Remember. Though Sleepless is no doubt indebted to this film, it has far more to offer than a mere repackaging of a classic love story.

I think the whole point of including the allusions and overt references to Affair is to contrast not so much the difference between movie love and real love (something that, admittedly, the film is not too concerned with), but to highlight a generational contrast. Meg Ryan was born four years after Affair was released; Tom Hanks was born a year before. Assuming the characters' ages correspond with the actors' ages, Annie and Sam are both in their mid-thirties at the time of the film. Their experience with Affair is not direct but second-hand. It is a film more of their parents' generation than their own.

Annie says while watching Affair, "That's when people knew how to be in love." Her friend Becky argues that she wants to be in love in a movie, not in real life. But the film has already given us two sets of characters who experienced a love that was if not quite as dramatic as that between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr then at least as compelling: Annie's parents and Sam and his first wife. Annie's parents are of the World War II generation and first met at a time when Atlantic City was still a major family vacation destination. Sam and his first wife met during Jimmy Carter's administration; not a heyday of romance, to be sure, but still well before the "greed is good," Reagan-'80s and the cold practicality of the early '90s.

Both couples serve as a counterpoint to the way relationships are carried out in America in the early '90s. The film is saying that there's something wrong in the way men and women relate now; something intuitive and natural that our parents had and that we've lost. The problem, the film wants to say, is not that people don't know how to be in love like in the movies; the problem is that people in the early '90s don't know how to be in love like people in the '50s.

An Affair to Remember is a wonderful movie. But let's not allow it to limit the true value of Sleepless In Seattle.