"Love Actually," "Carol," and the Fallacy of Closure

Two years ago, I was in Hudson, New York visiting one of my favorite couples, B and S. They’re older creatives, descended from greatness and revolutionary art movements. We were drinking coffee when S mentioned that he enjoyed the movie Love Actually, a film I’d finally watched because it was one of my ex-girlfriend’s (I am using the term as loosely as possible...like 'wet fart' loose) favorite movies—which should have been a red flag, or at least solid evidence as to our fundamental differences.


“You liked Love Actually?”

“It’s a nice movie,” he said.

“But it’s so bad!”

“Well, it’s not a movie for you.”

I consider A Woman Under the Influence a lighthearted holiday film, so he did have a point.

Love Actually is an objectively terrible film, not only because it is completely ridiculous, but because it promotes the fallacy of closure. The kind of neat and tidy resolutions that emerge from the dust of romantic or interpersonal upset, and exist ONLY in movies. They are marketed, ad nauseam, alongside the ideology that there exists in the world one soulmate for you, and if you’re open enough, work hard enough, compromise and sacrifice enough, you will find yours in the form of Hugh Grant or something. These soulmates typically live around the corner or bump into you in a coffee shop, but sometimes they live across the country or even the globe. If they do, they will, after meeting you briefly, reevaluate their future at an airport while standing in line waiting to be accosted by a TSA agent, only to realize what they’re leaving behind in Whatever-Town (you), and the realization strikes with such force that they exit the airport only to run into their human counterpoint (you), who, by some miracle, reached the same realization in line at a grocery store and you made it to the airport just in time. You and your soulmate proceed to suck face in front of a bunch of strangers, and then, I assume, go back to your place, probably have sex, move in together, get married, have a kid, move to the suburbs, vacation once a year, advance in your careers and live happily ever after.

Love Actually is worse than other formulaic rom-coms, because it heralds a guy—Rick from The Walking Dead before he was Rick from The Walking Dead—who is so seemingly well adjusted and attachment disorder-less, that he’s able to profess his undying love for Keira Knightly in a series of well-articulated poster boards, and then casually move on with his life. Not only move on with his life, but remain friends with Kiera Knightly and her husband (his best friend). Yes, Rick from Walking Dead loves his best friend’s wife, tells her about it, and the general movie-going public seems to think this is an acceptable, romantic display. Poster board-wielding Walking Dead Rick exists, presently, as a Valentine’s Day Meme, annually flooding social media platforms with the message, “To Me You Are Perfect.” Even if he is some rare breed of earnest, self-aware guy, in touch-with-his-feelings-and-capable-of-expressing-them-legibily, there is no way that Walking Dead Rick did not suffer the ails of unrequited love. In the movie, he evolves seamlessly from “creepiest wedding videographer on earth,” to “I’ll love you forever, but I have to let you go,” in a matter of weeks—an ending more implausible in this capitalist consumer culture that covertly promotes transaction, overpowering or manipulating our objects of desire and calling it love.

What the fuck, Rick?

What the fuck, Rick?

I am 37 years old and reside in a strange resolution purgatory where a lifetime of indoctrination into the idea of heteronormative romantic love and happy endings meets gay optimistic nihilist with a hard preference for Jena Rowlands/ John Cassavettes chaos. I’ve experienced disappointment in love, twice, and I know that closure does not come in a box, gift-wrapped, with a receipt. Sometimes there’s an email, a text message, or a ‘fuck you’ and a facebook block for no discernible reason. Sometimes closure is the end of something, without explanation.

I am a lesbian and so I have seen the movie Carol. Carol isn’t a great movie, but it is a better movie than Love Actually because it is gay, it stars Cate Blanchett, and because it is rife with mixed messages, loose ends, guns, and disappointment. The first time I watched it, I suffered a devastating epiphany. I had been dating a woman, intermittently, for about a year. Every couple of months or so, she’d secretly begin dating other people, find a more suitable partner, abruptly end the relationship with me, and cease all contact and communication, leaving me, a Gemini, and therefore astrologically prone to obsessive rumination, alone with my thoughts. So, there’s this scene in Carol where Blanchett leaves her young lover a note after their second night of sensual boning: “You look for resolution because you are young.” I felt childish for seeking an explanation from the object of my desire and I looked to Blanchett for guidance. After all, Carol was a middle-aged woman with life experience, an ex-husband, a string of lovers, a daughter, and a mansion. Carol was stoic, mysterious, and wise. I wondered if my years of alcoholism and drug addiction had stunted my emotional development. I berated myself for morphing into one of those pathetic, love addicted, pedestrian lesbians who propose marriage to the first person who shows them any sign of affection. But then I watched Carol again, several months later, and Cate Blanchett seemed less mature and more like, well, kind of an asshole: “You look for resolution because you are young.”

Blanchett, Queen of the Gays

Blanchett, Queen of the Gays

‘Actually, CAROL, I look for resolution because you drove me halfway across the country, fucked me in a hotel room, took off before I woke up, and sent your best friend, Sarah Paulson, to drive me back to New York in your car. You’re a mess, Carol, and an explanation would be nice,’ is what Rooney Mara should have said. Resolution cannot be forced from a dry well like Carol, and there are a lot of dry wells walking around in the world, disguised as functioning human beings. Proceed with caution. Closure is, of course, preferable to the unknown, but dangerous if it exists as a prerequisite for letting go.

While Carol does not fall for the trap of tying everything up at the end of the film, it is STRONGLY implied that Cate and Rooney are destined to live a fulfilling lesbian life together in New York, despite their age difference and the fact that they hadn’t really spent much time together at all minus the ill fated road trip. But being gay in the 1950s did not provide much opportunity for sexual exploration, so I don’t blame Rooney Mara for shacking up with the first ridiculously hot Cate Blanchett that buys her lunch. Carol, like Love Actually, avoids the grim reality of life, love, and relationships—that things often don’t work out, love is not always reciprocated, forgiveness is not an implicit ingredient in the evolution of emotional closure, and it doesn’t always manifest in the ways we would like; in poster board messages, letters, reunions or friendship. In mature conversations, over dinner, with apologies, propositions, and promises to keep in touch.

Case in point: Maybe you, hypothetically speaking of course, fall madly in love with someone who uses you as a prop to periodically elevate their self-esteem in between more substantial relationships over the course of a year or two. Maybe they apologize and you fantasize about a future where you overcome the hurt and are able to forge a new kind of relationship out of the old. The two of you, perhaps, and your ex’s new fiance, a beacon of maturity illuminating the local queer community. The Love Actually ending. But sometimes the past is overwhelming and you might tell the fiance to go fuck himself because he liked one of your photos on Instagram and you assume he’s posturing—you know, ‘getting his dick all over everything’ so you know he exists—a very 21st century expression of masculinity and ownership that says, ‘I’m here and she’s mine.’ Kind of like a less expensive engagement ring. And then maybe your ex tells YOU to fuck off, and you both agree that there is too much baggage for a sustainable and functioning friendship. A few days later you apologize for insulting the fiance, and just like that, three years of navigating the insanity of the most significant romantic experience of your life ends with an agreement, via email, to be cordial to one another in public and remain social media friends (yes, this is a thing now). Social media is the new barometer of publicly successful, contemporary resolution. This need for some crumb of connectedness, as if to say ‘everything’s copacetic,’ is nothing more than the shapeshifting fallacy of closure manifesting in the digital age. But I’m nosy and want continued access to the ex’s Yearly Christmas Photo so I send a friend request and do my part in upholding the illusion of acquaintanceship. But, I mean, overall, this scenario did not end well.

Often, there is no resolution to be had when things end. There is no correct version of events or bigger person, there are only two people armed with conflicting projections of reality. Sometimes lesbians break up and they don’t remain friends—and lesbians remaining friends is a disgusting trend proliferated by gay media, like AfterEllen, as a necessity or sign of emotional maturity. Sometimes lesbians break up and they hate each other forever and THAT, too, is closure, whether or not it’s Rainbow Flag Endorsed.

Is it ironic that I’m struggling to formulate a closing paragraph for an essay about how closure is an insidious myth, a marketing tactic, embedded into the very fabric of our culture? Probably. But you can’t get articles published or movies made without an ending. I think my point is, that if you’re one of those lucky people like Rick from The Walking Dead, or Blanchett or Rooney Mara, great. Good for you! But I’ll be here waiting for popular culture to better reflect an array of experiences that don’t all culminate in something resembling a jewelry ad—that don’t perpetuate the idea that you NEED to resolve conflict in order to achieve resolution. Sometimes closure is a final ‘fuck you’ and never seeing that person again, except for intermittent social gatherings where you avoid eye contact or say ‘hello’ to be polite.