Just to let you know, up front, I might gush a bit at the film Ruby Sparks. But it’s not really my fault. I love magical realism and movies about writing and touching romances. It just gets me right here, you know? The two films Ruby Sparks is just like are probably Stranger Than Fiction about a man whose life is being determined by a novelist he’s never met and (500) Days of Summer, a quirky, funny movie about a breakup.
Like (500)… this tells the story of a romance from a male point of view, and how screwed up he is in it. It is clever and wonderful and heartfelt and it makes you really sympathize with the screwed up, selfish, sometimes abusive guy. In the end he sees how screwed up he is, so that’s okay, right?
Like Stranger, this film speaks of the magic of creation through writing. It really is magic, but it is fascinating because we also recognize it as real. To write a character, or at least to do so well, is to create a new person that people—perhaps yourself—can appreciate, argue with, explore, discover life with, and even love or hate. To write or read a character is to bring a new person into your life. We recognize that when, at the end of a marvelous book, we are saddened by the fact that we won’t be with this person, or these people… perhaps ever again. No wonder Kathy Bates got so upset. Really, wouldn’t any of us?
At this point, I’m not going to go into the details of the plot of Ruby Sparks. It explores an idea with some cool characters and if what I haven’t written above doesn’t encourage you to see it, then I won’t be able to write more to do so. Perhaps it is enough to say I loved it.
Below is a reflection on the film. Although much of it is tangential to the film, I highly recommend not reading it unless you have seen it.
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Relationships are difficult.
Your significant other has habits you hate, says inappropriate things, misrepresents you as a couple, complains about your normal behavior, and embarrasses you. Why do we remain in such a relationship, with so much baggage? Because, of course, there are things you love about the other person, but most of all you are IN LOVE with the other. You are no longer you yourself, but you are a part of them and they are a part of you.
And that’s the problem. Because all of these unacceptable behaviors are not just a part of the other person, but a part of “us” and “us” is a part of you. This is where controlling behavior in a relationship begins. We control our significant other in the same way we control any irritating, immoral, unacceptable behavior in ourselves, because the other is now a part of ourselves.
Once a relationship matures, there are three people: “you”, “I” and “us” and the “you” behavior can be separated from the “us”, but at first it is difficult to measure that out. Some people never grow in this way.
The difficulty for Ruby is that she has no real backbone, no real “self” except that was created by Calvin (a very deterministic name, to be sure). There is a “you” in Ruby, but a very weak one, one that is dependent completely on Calvin. Ruby is little more than a sim, and Calvin is her god. She can leave her god, but in the end he is in control.
One of the reasons a human being finds it difficult to be God, or even a god, is because we are so filled with ambitions and hopes and desperate desires that must be fulfilled, that we cannot leave free will alone. If we had complete control over our significant other, which of us would set that aside, completely, to allow them to be their own person. Eventually, all of us, convincing ourselves that we were doing it for “their own good” would use the power to control in order to make “the relationship better.” In other words, we would control the other in order to fulfill our own desires.
Relationships are tough. And that’s the way it’s meant to be.
If one person in a relationship controlled all aspects of the relationship, then there is no growth. Sure, there could be growth of each individual person in other aspects of their lives, but not in the relationship. If a relationship is seen as a perfect, unchanging entity, then it is, by definition, incomplete, imperfect.
We are meant to be in relationship, because we need to grow. And growth only comes from conflict with one whom one must remain attached. The struggle between the attraction and the unacceptable, both within the same person, is how we grow. We learn to compromise, to mediate, to surrender, to convince, to seduce, to minimize, to forgive. We learn to love.
Because love isn’t just the overwhelming feeling of desire or connection. That’s just the first step. Love is learning to live with the other that is so vastly different than the self. Love is the blending of the self with the other, while never actually erasing the other or the self. Neither control nor complete surrender has any part in love.
I just want to say one more thing about the film that I hope the writer and female star of the film never reads. (Zoe, if you do read this, I am sure you deeply disagree with me on this, but it’s just the funny way I see these things, okay? I really loved the movie, so just remember that.)
The movie is about Calvin who controls his relationship with his girlfriend, and how he learns not to be so controlling. But in reality, not the film, it is Zoe, who plays Ruby and who wrote the screenplay, who is in control. And Paul Dano, who plays Calvin is her boyfriend. So in reality, while the film might be about men controlling women, it is actually about a woman finally getting control over her real life relationship, making her boyfriend grow up by her own literal script.
Control goes two ways. It always does.