As I write this, I am currently reading a YA historical fiction where the protagonist makes a new friend. This friend supposedly becomes her “new best friend” but all we get of this new young woman is a couple lines of dialogue and a one sentence description that evokes one of those “relationship montages” you see in movies. Suffice it to say, I am unconvinced by the power of this new friendship if the author can’t even bother to show me more than two lines of dialogue.
The same day I read this montage-line, I watched the movie Jane Eyre that has come to our smaller theater. I love the book and I liked the movie a lot. Everything the scriptwriter included from the book they portrayed very, very well. But I found myself unable to root for Jane and Rochester, nor to care what happened to them, though they are one of my favorite couples in classic literature. In fact, there was little difference in their portrayal of domineering, tragic lord-of-the-manor Rochester and their portrayal of the domineering well-intentioned missionary. Why should she pick one man over the other if they treat her essentially the same?
So what happened?
They filmed the initial sequences from the book where we begin to see the spark Jane carries buried inside her and what draws Rochester to her. We even catch a glimpse of the good man inside the tragic, tortured Rochester. But sparks and glimpses do not a relationship make. They do not even a romance make. What Bronte did so well in taking the two characters and having their relationship build and develop, the filmmakers completely left out. All of the scenes necessary to Jane and Rochester actually falling in love, learning to respect each other and work together for a common purpose–were gone. Then they replaced all of these key middle sequences such as the gypsy scene and the second attack and put in a romance montage instead.
This isn’t an isolated incident. More and more I am seeing films and books replace the necessary “building a real relationship” scenes with the equivalent of montages and hand-waves. They go from spark to romance and leave us feeling empty and hollow. If all you wanted was the kissing, then I suppose you are satisfied, but everyone who writes or portrays a relationship as a simple handwave does us all a great disservice. You cannot wave your hand with a magic poof and make love happen in real life, nor should you in a book. We are wired the same way on and off the page.
And how are we supposed to have working relationships for ourselves if we can never see a good example of it?
I really wanted to care for Jane and Rochester in the movie because in the book, Bronte works to make me care. But the movie-makers–and many others, I have noticed–have forgotten what love is, what a romance is really about. It’s about the relationship. It’s about the growth of mutual respect, admiration, affection, unity, and love. It’s not about the kissing, nor is it about tragedy or reuniting at last.