Ann Hornaday has a marvelous article in the Washington Post about one of the most popular themes in movies: weddings.
And why shouldn’t Hollywood love a good wedding? With its swirl of heightened emotions, its simmering leitmotifs of love and loss, fear and hope, all swathed in a frothy confection of pink roses, white butter cream and queen-for-a-day tulle, the wedding provides an irresistible trope, from the ditziest rom-com to the bloodiest gangster epic. It’s a tiny three-act drama in microcosm (the incident-filledrun-up to the ceremony, the ceremony itself, the aftermath) that can give audiences insta-catharsis. And whether a marriage is meant to be or doomed to fail, there’s something viscerally satisfying about a wedding, in all its reassuring ritual….We cherish them not just as classic examples of courtship at its most idealized but also as trenchant social commentaries. If they initially charmed audiences with gorgeous movie stars, dreamy romance and zany comedy, they endure because they’re such revealing reflections of their times.
Hornaday points out that if you search for “wedding” on the Internet Movie Database, you will find “more than 2,157 hits — happily, 500 more than the number for ‘funeral.'”
There are weddings in romance movies, of course, and in comedies and dramas, but you can find them even in gangster movies, war movies, movies for children and movies for adults. Sometimes the main character is the bride or groom but very often the wedding couple are secondary characters and the wedding is just a place for all the drama or comedy or even action to play out. Sometimes a movie wedding is the culmination of the plot because the couple gets married and sometimes it is the culmination of the plot because the ceremony is interrupted. The Baxter makes the guy whose job in the story is to get left at the alter the center of the movie. (One of the highlights is the wonderful Peter Dinklage as a wedding planner.)
Before there were movies, there were fairy tales that often ended with a wedding. Weddings are in the same category as the lost ark or the secret formula or the capturing of the bridge or winning the big game. Love is life’s big adventure and a wedding is the symbol of its ultimate expression. And it is also a lot of fun to see other cultures and traditions. Here are some of my favorite movie wedding scenes. I’d love to hear yours, too.
1. The Godfather One of the greatest American films begins with a wedding reception that gives us unforgettable introductions to the entire cast, their values, and their relationships.
2. The Deer Hunter A agonizing film about the impact of the Vietnam war on three friends begins with an extended wedding scene that establishes the foundation for what is to come by making us not just care about the characters; after that wedding reception, filmed with such intimacy, we almost feel like part of the family.
3. The Philadelphia Story My all-time favorite movie is this sophisticated and witty story about the forthcoming wedding of a wealthy woman to an executive with political ambitions. Complications ensue when a reporter, a photographer, and her ex-husband show up for the festivities.
4. The Graduate A very few movies seem to express and even shape the themes of their time. And a small fraction of those hold up over time as works of art. “The Graduate” leads that category with brilliant direction from Mike Nichols, a haunting soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, and superb performances by Dustin Hoffman as Ben, the title character, who symbolizes the disaffection of his generation and Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, the friend of his parents who symbolizes the emptiness of hers. When Ben finds something meaningful in a relationship with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, he ends up disrupting her wedding in a scene that has become iconic.
5. Four Weddings and a Funeral Screenwriter Richard Curtis based this on his own experience of finding himself at a seemingly endless stream of weddings. Charlie (Hugh Grant, in a star-making role) meets Carrie (Andie MacDowell) at the first of the weddings and their relationship evolves over the rest of the title ceremonies. But this is really the story of Charlie and his friends, all of whom find love by (but sometimes not until) the closing credits.
6. Bend it Like Beckham Parminder Nagra plays Jesminder, the daughter of a traditional Punjabi Sikh family in London who wants to play soccer. Her sister’s wedding plans provide a context for her struggles against her family’s reluctance to let her play, especially when it turns out that the soccer finals are at the same time.
7. Lovers and Other Strangers The wedding at the center of this film is the setting for a wide variety of happy and sad, healthy and dysfunctional love relationships among the extended family, played by a stand-out cast including Gig Young, Cloris Leachman, Anne Meara, Bea Arthur, and Anne Jackson. The Carpenters’ standard, “For All We Know” was written for this film.
8. Father of the Bride There has never been a more beautiful bride than Elizabeth Taylor in this affectionate comedy about the impact of a wedding on the family. Spencer Tracy plays the beleaguered father who is expected to pay endless bills and endure endless relatives on both sides. The scene where he comforts her after she (briefly) breaks off the engagement is one of my very favorites.
9. Fiddler on the Roof This classic musical based on the stories of Sholom Aleichem about a small Jewish village in late 19th century Russia. The main character is a poor milkman who has a lot of challenges in marrying off three of his daughters. The themes of tradition and change in the romances of the three daughters and in the community at large come together in the warm and loving wedding celebration (with the lovely song “Sunrise, Sunset”).
10. My Big Fat Greek Wedding Inspired by the real-life experience of Nia Vardalos, the daughter of Greek immigrants, this touching and hilarious story of a shy young woman in a big, noisy family who finds love with a kind-hearted teacher, leading to some confusion and misunderstandings but also a lot of laughter and new connections.
And don’t forget: The Wedding Crashers, The Runaway Bride, Rachel Getting Married, It Happened One Night, Goodbye, Columbus, Confetti, Cousins, and the French movie it was based on, “Cousin, Cousine.”
Larry Gopnik (theater actor Michael Stuhlbarg) is a physics professor in 1967 Minneapolis. He covers a blackboard the size of a movie screen with equations, confidently lecturing his students about the uncertainty principle but outside the classroom unable to cope with the uncertainty all around him. He can explain that Schrodinger’s (hypothetical) Cat inside a box may be both dead and alive, but he has a much harder time understanding his wife (who is leaving him), a student who may be attempting to bribe him for a better grade, the tenure committee that will decide his professional fate, all of which has him feeling as though he is in a box and both dead and alive, too. Larry’s son does not seem to care about anything but being able to watch the western sitcom “F Troop.” His daughter seems to spend all of her time washing her hair. His brother (Richard Kind) seems to be either a genius or completely mad, but in either case he does not seem capable of living on his own. Larry wants to be a serious man, and he wants some answers.
So, like a character in a fable or a fairy tale, he brings his questions to three rabbis, a young one who wants him to see everything as an expression of God’s will, an experienced one who tells him a mesmerizing but pointless story about a non-Jew’s teeth and tells him to do good works, and one who is very old and remote and is too busy thinking to talk to him. Internally, he becomes more stressed but his reactions are passive and conciliatory. The audience feels a sense of helplessness and dread as it seems we are more aware of the disasters heading for Larry than he is. A record company calls to tell him he needs to pay for the records he ordered. He says he has not ordered anything and they tell him that under the terms of their agreement not doing anything means ordering. And Larry is as poorly equipped to resolve that problem as he is to stop his wife from leaving him for a neighbor who somehow has the confidence, admiration, and deference he wishes for. Throughout the movie, there are many close-ups of ears, but no one seems to be listening to what is going on in front of them. He goes up on the roof to adjust the antennae, but still has trouble receiving the signal.
Under pressure, he begins to make some compromises that are contrary to his values, and that increases his stress and sense of losing control. As he searches for some sense of meaning or connection or even (he is a scientist after all) rationality, he does not realize that the answer is what he tells his students: that everything is uncertain but you are still responsible for it on the midterm.
Much has been made of the fact that for the first time Joel and Ethan Coen have made a film with autobiographical elements. Like Larry’s children, the Coen brothers grew up in a Jewish suburb of Minneapolis in the 1960’s, and like Larry, their father was a professor. But you get the feeling that they have once again appropriated and embraced and tweaked a genre just for the fun of it, and that it has no more meaning to them than any of the others. As Larry says, the stories are just illustrative; the math is how it really works.
Once again, as with Wes Anderson, meticulous and imaginative production design and a level of opacity far beyond most mainstream releases is often confused with profundity. Perhaps this is an ink blot for us to project our own questions on. Or perhaps it is their version of what Larry tells his students, and our midterm is coming up.
Books and movies are two very different modes of expression. Books tend to be more subjective and internal, focusing on what the author or characters think and feel. Movies are usually better at showing what happens. Even a hugely popular book about a deeply passionate romance like The Time Traveler’s Wife made with diligence and respect and starring beautiful people who are good actors, does not always produce a movie that lives up to the vision of the author and the readers.
Henry (Eric Bana) has become an involuntary time traveler following a traumatic accident that killed his mother when he was a child. He has no control over when or where he goes, but a force he describes as being like gravity pulls him back over and over to places and interactions that are most meaningful to him. When a beautiful young woman named Clare (Rachel McAdams) asks him for help at the Newberry Library, he can tell from her expression that she knows his future self and he knows her past self, but at the moment he has no clue who she is, much less that they are in love with one another. The special challenges (disappearing and re-appearing) are painful, often life-threatening, and even the benefits (it can be very helpful to know what is going to happen) can be stressful. But like all great love affairs, the connection between Henry and Clare transcends time.
Like the book, the movie gets weaker as it becomes more convoluted and far-fetched in the last third of the story. Unlike the book, it does not have the evocative and graceful prose written by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel is very internal, and no matter how able Bana and McAdams are, the script gives them little to do to convey the book’s power other than gaze lovingly at each other. The movie eliminates many secondary characters and much of the conversation and interaction that makes us care whether Henry and Clare figure out a way to literally stay together. They seem to have no personality, no substance beyond those longing glances. By far the most interesting character in the movie does not even arrive until the last 20 minutes. As the storyline gets more preposterous (and, in the screening I attended, provoked some unintended laughter), a new character arrives to give the film more weight and honesty than anything that has gone before, making us wish we could go back in time to start the film with that story instead.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg, a documentary just nominated for an Oscar, is the story of the man who gave secret government documents about the Vietnam war to newspapers for publication in 1971. The impact of his leak was seismic. And it continues to reverberate today as many of the same issues of military strategy and government accountability are debated by another generation.
Dr. Ellsberg, a one-time hawk on the war who had served as a Marine and worked in the Department of Defense, wrote his own book about his experiences and his views, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. His dissertation, Risk, Ambiguity and Decision, is still considered a major contribution. I spoke to Dr. Ellsberg about the past, the present, war, peace, and the movie.
Are you the most dangerous man in America?
Not at the moment. Fom the point of view of the Obama administration it would be whoever leaked the secret cables of Ambassador [Karl] Eikenberry, [US ambassador to Afghanistan] to the Times. I had not seen facsimile copies like that since the Pentagon papers. I am sure there is a tremendous search to find out who was responsible. It’s quite contrary to what Eikenberry testified to in Congress about being fully in accord to McChrystal’s recommendations for sending more troupes. The cables gave the lie to that, a warning against any such involvement.
Why were you considered so dangerous?
It wasn’t what has already been leaked that was the problem, it was their worry about what might be next. Kissinger feared I would put out material on Nixon, and that brought him down. It was that fear that led Nixon to get personally involved in illegal activity to try to stop me. And that led to his resignation and that led to the end of the war.
The movie doesn’t make really clear why I was regarded as the most dangerous man. [Egil “Bud”] Krogh referred to the fact that they thought I had documents on Nixon. That was why they went into my doctor’s office. That was the part that involved the president himself, in the case of the actions against me they had a number of witnesses that he ordered that himself. If it weren’t for that, he would not have had to cover up because the trail didn’t lead to him. The important thing was not to find out what I had as much as to keep me from putting it out.
They knew I had some material directly from Nixon’s office, because I had given it to Senator Matthias who wanted to be a Republican white knight. They had to worry about it without knowing exactly what it was, they had to take extreme measures including sending people to beat me up or possibly kill me.
The movie portrays you as a hero to many people. Who are your heroes?
Howard Zinn, one of the greatest human beings on earth. Noam Chomsky. People who have openly refused to go to war. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. I met met Rosa Parks on the way to my arraignment. I took a toothbrush and went off to a football field where they were meeting in New Orleans. If it weren’t for Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was talking to her and said “You’re my hero,” and she said, “You’re my hero.” You can imagine what that meant to me.
Why this time? What made the difference? She said, “I had given up my seat to a white woman a number of times but had never been asked to give it up to a white man. I asked myself what I would do? I didn’t know what I would do.” When the moment came, she knew, and she said no. It is the way things happen.
You don’t know what you are doing or how you will respond until you get into it, but it helps to think about it beforehand. The situation has arisen before and people think about it and then they are cocked like a pistol and ready to do it. Now is the time.
You were a team player and then decided to play for a bigger team.
That’s well put! A much bigger team in numbers. The key thing there was meeting people who were on the larger team like Bob Eaton. We stood in a vigil line for him, he was going to prison for draft resistance. Stepping into that vigil line, standing in front of the post office on a hot day, when I had been writing something for Nixon, I could not do both. It was like the first date with Patricia, marching around the White House and worrying that a picture of me might appear in the Post.
I didn’t have a good excuse for getting out of going to the protest. I thought of saying I was sick that day but I was shamed into standing in that line. Once you’re in the line it was like stepping over the line at a recruiting station. I had stepped over a line and was recruited into the anti-war movement. Passing out leaflets instead of writing memos for the President, in my mind I had shifted sides from being an insider to being a citizen. Days later I had the experience of seeing Randy Keeler, but I don’t know if it would have had the same effect except for having been at that vigil.
Pastor Martin Niemoller was testifying while I was at the vigil, and he had a big influence on me. I was at the same war resister’s conference. I am still not a total pacifist. He had been a U-Boat commander in WWI. He was imprisoned in 38 or 39 and spent the war in Dachau. The famous quote always puzzled me.
In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me — and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.
He did speak out, so what is he talking about? He is describing the attitude of the average German. He told me that he had not been a pacifist in the second World War. He thought Hitler should have been opposed. He didn’t become a pacifist until 1950 when Heisenberg informed him about the coming H-Bomb. And that made him a nuclear pacifist. I was having lunch with a couple of pacifists and arguing with them as I had often done, a strong argument against total pacifism is the Brits who fired at the bombers over London.
Why do you oppose our military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan?
The last thing that you do is the thing that Al-Qaeda wants to you to do. Osama bin Laden wanted us to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, which was his enemy anyway. Even better would be to attack Iran, his enemy, to get the Muslim world against us. We fell right into Obama’s trap, born and bred in the brier patch; he wanted that oil. I have no doubt that he prefers us to be fighting in Afghanistan forever. I would have cooperated with the rest of the world including people we do not like, make it easy for them to cooperate with us and share their information about those who want to attack us. There are ways to respond without generating recruits for the terrorists. Getting the oil was more important than Al-Qaeda, so that is where Bush went.
But you said you are not a complete pacifist. So how do you decide when force is necessary?
I was giving Niemoller my example of the Brits, etc. You could not stop Hitler’s blitzkriegs with non-violence. Non-violence would not have saved the Jews. As in the old cartoons a light bulb appeared over my head — violence didn’t save the Jews, nothing saved the Jews. They all died. Here was the cruncher, the ace up the sleeve, partly because we didn’t use our violence to save the Jews. It made me remember something by Raoul Wallenberg. The Holocaust could not have been carried out except in wartime conditions. You need the secrecy. I went to Neimoller and said is it possible that the resistance that people put up to Hitler was at the expense of the Jews? I thought he would take time but he said right away, “It cost the Jews their lives.” I have always realized that. It doesn’t mean that people weren’t justified in resisting but far from saving them, it doomed the Jews.
I asked what else am I wrong about?
What do you want from the movie?
If more people see the movie we will have more leakers like the Eickenberry cables and that will be for the good.