On Cowardice and Courage

RB and I watched the movie Submarine (2010) last night. I am grieved by a terrible affliction whenever we pick a film to watch which is that I get very, very anxious over making the right choice.

I choose a movie to watch the same way one might research what car to buy.

I want a synopsis, a Rotten Tomatoes score, who’s in the cast, and a rundown of the award nominations it earned upon release. Maybe it’s a symptom of my attention scarcity, but I fear committing to anything for two hours without concluding it’ll be worth it.

RB is the exact opposite.

He can commit to a movie without knowing anything about it. He revels in the journey like an absolute madman.

I digress.

When RB recommended Submarine, a coming of age film about a Welsh teen who falls in love, I was game because it’s my favorite genre of film and also, Welsh accents. It did not disappoint.

Submarine (2010)

Submarine is a visual delight, highly imaginative, and delivers that dry humor that is so characteristic among the British, as well as a beautiful music score by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys.

Submarine (2010)

RB first watched this film in the 10th grade and I was reminded yet again of our ability to recognize unapologetic indie kids in one another. The dreamy nature in me falls further in love with the dreamy nature in him each time I catch a glimpse of it.

Submarine’s script and cinematography reminded me of my favorite movie of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Eternal Sunshine, nor will it be the last. It’s one of those movies that got under my skin in my formative years and became a way to understand the world and the tension I felt within myself. I used to watch it over and over again between the ages of 13-17, falling asleep to Jon Brion’s score whenever I felt afraid or sad.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

If you haven’t seen it, Eternal Sunshine follows two individuals, Joel and Clementine (played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet), that erase each other from their memory in order to get over their failed 2-year relationship.

Part of what makes this film stand out to me is Carrey and Winslet’s delivery of the script. I’m reminded of a “behind the scenes” clip I watched once where Carrey was practicing his lines with Winslet and he threw the recorder they were using off the table because of the emotional sinew the scene evoked. Carrey started crying and Winslet immediately began comforting him as a friend. Their portrayal of these characters stuck in heartbreak is significant to me because I’ve recognized it in my parents, my friends, myself.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

In Submarine, the main characters are younger than Joel and Clementine. In fact, the main protagonist, Oliver, is assured by his mom that his heartbreak over Jordana, his teenage love, won’t matter when he’s 35.

Submarine (2010)

And he tries to buy into that idea as he reckons with the possibility of his own parents separation. He doesn’t share this tumult happening at home with his girlfriend because she has her own challenges as she deals with her mom’s cancer. Ultimately, our protagonist fails to show up for our girl when she needs him the most… when she’s explicitly asked him to.

Submarine (2010)

Some may say this is cowardice. And similarly, Joel’s failure to address the issues in his relationship with Clementine could be considered the same.

In a way, they both fail to find their voice until it’s too late.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

They don’t lose the girl because they don’t love her. They lose the girl because they are terrified by the idea of their own vulnerability.

We are so human that way.

Our female protagonists, on the other hand, characterize a certain bravery I believe we should aspire to. It’s not that their characters are perfect, quite the opposite; they’re flawed, impulsive, and resentful at times.

But they each communicate what they want very clearly, move on once they realize their person is incapable of providing the partnership they desire. And both dare to love their flawed heroes again once their errors are realized. I think that’s when love becomes real.

Submarine (2010)

It’s one thing to choose one another when we are shiny, new. It’s another to love each other when we’ve held each other’s hair back after drinking too much or once we’ve isolated ourselves because we’re actually terrified to be known and rejected.

Submarine (2010)

Both of these movies stand out to me because the main characters, for all their efforts, are so average. Even Clementine who dyes her hair a different color every month is painstakingly familiar to me in her fears and desires.

But I recognize myself in both parties, both the coward and the courageous.

Submarine (2010)

I’ve lost friendships because I wasn’t in a healthy enough place to fight for them and I’ve dared to forgive, knowing full well the collateral damage love is apt to bring.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

I guess what I’m saying is love is a lot like picking a movie.

You can do your best to measure the outcome and try to outsmart your way out of disappointment. Ultimately, these efforts are futile. You may love a movie (or a partner) for reasons others will never understand. You could very well be disappointed by the ones littered with awards.

Sometimes all we can do is press play and enjoy the mystery.

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Author: RJ Bohyn

My name is RJ, I'm a writer and consultant based in the South. If you're reading this, you've arrived at the corner of the internet I've cultivated to share life, reflections on faith, style, and just about everything in between with those generous enough to read.

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