“Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television,” so says Woody Allen in Husbands and Wives, mid-seduction with an incredibly hair-cutted Juliette Lewis. Whether we like it or not, we’re pretty doomed to live out the story arcs of fictional characters – we want a love like Katherine Heigl has. Films simultaneously show us what we supposedly want, whilst emulating the lives we’re stumbling through somewhat shittily. It’s that whole free will versus pre-destination fight that no-one really gives a shit about. Still, we’re consistently being taught that to stalk is to love, so how is that impacting on our real-life encounters (if we’re lucky enough to have any)? And have we gotten all too used to the idea that being inappropriate, eccentric, invading personal space at every opportunity, is okay as long as it’s love? I’m not talking Fatal Attraction or Single White Female or The Roomate (ah, Meester), but the unobvious, supposedly subtle, no-one’s going to get murdered, probably. Rom-coms and Disney films have completely fucked up the way we handle relationships IRL, so welcome to stalker season. Here are your appetisers.
I didn’t really get Sleepless in Seattle the first time I watched it a bazillion years ago. A movie in which the leads share like zero screen time? Who even wants that? But in later life, Tom Hanks has become the skin to my inner Brie and I’m hook line and sinker on that man’s team even when I’m dead. But rewatching it last week made me feel the teeniest bit creeped out. Don’t get me wrong, it is PERFECT: a super-sharp Ephron script, a slightly high-pitched Tom Hanks all widowed and vulnerable, and people being “Affair to Remember-ed” all over the shop. BUT, and this totally upset me: Meg Ryan’s character exhibits some borderline terrifying irrational stalker behaviour, which nobody really calls her on, all of which she does simple as breathing. Sure, she’s a reporter “investigating a story,” who’s accidentally “fallen in love” with a voice on the radio. I don’t dispute the magical properties of the right person’s voice but, babe, everything you do is TOO SOON.
As part of her character’s research, Meg orders a background check on Tom, including a PHOTO of him, because a girl gots to put a face to the spank bank. She flies out to where he lives, knocks at his front door (luckily, he’s out), like it’s totes normal and legit, and not at all forward that she’s been telling her BFF how he’s basically THE ONE. To cherry top it, she’s mid-planning her wedding to the on-paper perfect bloke, who’s boring as fuck, but likes the same table settings as her so it’s 100% meant to be. I do actually like the degree to which Sleepless in Seattle questions what compatibility is: is dependable and nice enough, or should you pursue chemistry at the expense of everything else? As the film ends with the leads meeting, we have no actual idea if they fucking hate each other and last less than 24 hours together (hopeful forevs, me). But is stalking ever the answer?
A well-documented stalking as love narrative is Twilight. Not only does Edward Cullen watch Bella sleep without her permission for fucking months, he keeps such a close eye on her he can appear as if from nowhere when she’s been harassed, assaulted or almost run over. He’s omnipotent like the creator, and this is painted as the truest of loves, because he does it seemingly selflessly and, get this, without being able to read her mind when he can everyone else’s. Why is anyone swooning when they find out a man they hardly know has been stood in their room night after night watching them sleep? I think we need to ask some probing questions of ourselves.
Characters in Woody Allen films aren’t adverse to a little stalking to win the objects of their affection, either. Michael Caine plays sedate stalker awesomely in Hannah and Her Sisters. Having developed an unshakeable crush on his wife’s sister, he concocts contrivances so as to see her, alone. Knowing the time she’s leaving her house, he waits for her across the street, runs an alternate road to intersect her route as if he’s just in the neighbourhood, takes her to a book shop and plays poet appreciator (is that what every woman wants, or thinks they want but, actually, no?) His best line ever: “I read a poem of you and thought of his last week.” His stuttering charm sets the affair whirring but it’s not sustainable long term. Still, he got his, people!
One of the stalky-ist rom coms of all time has to be Just Like Heaven. Mark Ruffalo, convinced he’s been speaking to the spirit of Reese Witherspoon, and finding out her body’s about to be taken off life support, he rushes to the hospital, whereby he proceeds to tongue-kiss an unconscious woman on a hospital trolley in the hopes she’ll wake up. Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, you really did a number on us. He continues to make out with her limp body, as security guards rush down the hall to her aid. But it’s okay, seriously! They’re soul mates!
I personally blame a combination of Disney films, rom-coms and Jesus for my skewed ideas of what love is or should be (because why take responsibility for something yourself when you can spread the blame like silky smooth peanut butter on a selection of crackers?) Aside from that retro smorgasbord of women who could only be woken from the deepest of sleeps by true love’s heterosexual kiss, Beauty and the Beast is perhaps the most troubling (and beautiful) of Disney films, as we’re presented with a case of Stockholm syndrome, in which an awesome lady does indeed learn to love the beast who imprisons her. And that whole Jesus thing, the promise that a man would save me, rescue me from all the shit in my life, I mean, seriously people, is it any wonder I’ve spent so much time chasing salvation in all the total wrong people and places, expecting perfection?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of films in which stalking becomes romance, or love is a little creepy upon closer inspection, or the things that we want seem completely irrational and downright strange; it’s just a start. Plus, it’s all about perspective, maybe, and if you love someone, a little internet stalking is actually romantic. Right? RIGHT? And knowing someone’s home address? Well, that’s just good sense. xoxo