Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Does Someone Have to Die?

With the dearth of new TV shows to watch courtesy of the writer's strike, my husband and I have been burning through the Netflix at a terrific pace. This week we watched a fabulous movie that had been in our "queue" for sometime, but for some reason I hadn't been excited about, called THE PAINTED VEIL (starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton). There are some very powerful scenes in this movie, they type of scenes I'd love to emulate in a romance, where your heart squeezes and your gut clenches with the emotion. IMO Edward Norton is an absolutely brilliant actor.

*SPOILER ALERT * Stop reading if you plan to watch this movie...

Basically, it's the story of a spoiled young English woman who marries a staid doctor/scientist who works in China. The bored young wife ends up having an affair. In anger, the husband forces her to accompany him deep into the Chinese countryside to help control an outbreak of cholera. The love story that follows is heart-wrenching. As I said above, brilliant stuff. But here's the thing: my husband was teasing my mercilessly through it because you can tell just from the type of movie that it is that someone is going to die, and he knows how angry I get when I watch a movie and I don't get my pay off.

I think that is one of the reasons I love reading romance (I'm talking genre romance here). I KNOW that at the end of the book I will have my reward for sticking through all the struggle and strife the characters go through. With literary fiction "love stories" it's just the opposite. I call them romances for men. My husband could care less whether there is a HEA.

Even with the unhappy ending the movie was excellent, but I couldn't help thinking I would have enjoyed it even more with a different ending. I know there are reasons why Somerset Maugham chose to end the story the way he did--the kind of reasons that I could write a paper about in college--but those reasons don't satisfy me as a reader or watcher of the film.

I found myself compulsively checking the "special features" of the DVD for alternative endings while my husband was laughing his head off. Then again, in my little world Romeo and Juliet don't die either.

There seems to be a strange phenomena in literary fiction that in order to qualify you can't have a happy ending. I wonder why this is? This is the one criticism against romance that I really don't understand. Why is it perceived that there is something inherently "weak" or not as intellectually stimulating about a happy ending? Maybe I'm wrong, but most criticism that I get about romances (usually by people who don't read them) is that they are "formulaic." To me, that goes right to the happy ending.

What do you think . . . when you are watching a movie, or reading a book, does it bother you if there isn't a happy ending? Do you think there is an intellectual backlash against the HEA?