Sunday, January 22, 2012

Love and Loss in Hollywood: Dear John

Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight. They’re wrenched apart. They reunite.

What is it about this dramatic motif that pulls us in? Why is the theme of love and loss a perennial favorite in Hollywood? We know how the movies are going to end, yet we watch them with first-time wonder.

Dear John was a 2010 box office hit that critics panned but viewers loved. It is a touching love story based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel, illustrating the heart-wrenching decisions we make in the face of difficult life circumstances.

John and Savannah fall in love on spring break and she must return to college while he has a year to go in the Army special forces. Tragedy strikes with 9/11 and John decides to extend his tour of duty against Savannah’s protests. She initially stands by her man and waits, but as time stretches with no return date, she sends him a “Dear John” letter. She’s decided to marry another man who has cancer, so his child, whose mother has abandoned him, will be cared for.

Dear John pulls us in because it reflects the archetypes that move our souls and give our lives meaning. Archetypes are human behavior patterns that cross cultural boundaries, such as the lover, warrior, mother and father. As we watch Dear John we recognize our own struggles with loss and love and the conflicts that opposing archetypes represent.

As lovers, Savannah and John desperately want to be together but John’s warrior nature compels him to re-up in the Army following his country’s worst military trauma since Vietnam. Savannah’s love for John propels her to wait for an extended period, but her feelings for another man, her need to be needed and her mothering instinct take over. The man who woos Savannah knows she loves John in a way she’ll never love him, but his fatherly drive to protect his child overrides his desire to be number one in Savannah’s life.

While many accept life’s losses and struggles as “just the way it is,” others cry out in rage at the injustice of life. Philosophers have speculated about the meaning of life since time began, each coming up with a different explanation. Religions explain away tragedies with various ideas about God’s love for, disappointment with, or indifference to man.

In the past 40 years a new thought system has arisen called A Course in Miracles. It synthesizes Eastern spirituality and Western Christianity and philosophy with Freudian psychology. It is a comprehensive thought system that explains human behavior and the meaning of life. A Course in Miracles says we are dreaming our lives and everything is in our mind, with no external reality. Our mind is like a film projector, projecting what it thinks onto the screen of the world. The mind has two opposing sets of beliefs, the wrong mind of loss and separation, and the right mind of wholeness and oneness. We are always choosing between the wrong mind and the right mind, between fear and love.

When the mind believes in loss and separation, it projects a world of bodies whose needs conflict with each other. No two bodies have exactly the same drives and needs, so loss is inevitable. However, because we are mind, we are simply dreaming of separation. The right mind knows we are all one and there is no separation. It compels our inherent longing to return to our oneness. It’s that wistful feeling of wanting to go home we all have.

Our archetypal roles get played out alternately by the right and wrong minds. The ego, our small self personality, is part of the wrong mind. Our egos are always afraid because the ego script is “damned if you do; damned if you don’t.” Invariably, our inner archetypal drives conflict with opposing drives within ourselves and our loved ones. Hence, we experience loss and turmoil, which is the essence of drama. Savannah and John fall in love because they feel one with each other. When we fall in love, we see the perfection that is possible in truth, but not possible at the level of bodies. As they continue in their relationship, their separate ego needs compete for attention, and loss ensues, in spite of their love for each other. Happiness can never be permanent in the world of bodies, because bodies must separate and die.

A Course in Miracles provides a way out of this dilemma. It re-minds us that we are dreaming and cannot be separate. Whether or not bodies are together, minds are always joined. This is exemplified by John and Savannah’s enduring love, in their minds, regardless whether he is half a world away at war, or whether she marries another man. Loss pulls at our heart strings and creates a yearning to reunite with the beloved. If we stay in the wrong mind, we continue to feel loss and separation. If we choose the right mind, we feel our oneness no matter what.

Forgiveness is the tool to awaken the truth that we can never lose the ones we love. Forgiveness is a conscious choice to join rather than separate, regardless of how someone has hurt us. Dear John speaks to our hearts, as John and Savannah are reunited when they forgive.

True to Hollywood, there is a happy movie ending, but many of us never see our old flames again. Yet in our souls, in the lovers archetype, part of us knows separation is an illusory dream of the ego. Loss cannot be real when minds are together. When we choose our right mind of love we are whole.

Loss is always resolved, just not always Hollywood style.

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