–By Sam Hendrian–
Valentine’s Day (and Lent) is here, and chocolate (and people giving up chocolate) abounds. While the word “love” has been grossly commercialized and abused throughout history, it is important to remember its true meaning and purpose: the selfless giving of one’s self. As my favorite high school teacher once challenged us, “sacrificial love” is redundant. Immersing ourselves in well-made love stories is one way to remember what it really means to love someone, and while Hollywood has often produced false representations of true love, it has also given us its fair share of well-made, virtue-reminding romance films. Here are seven movie love stories that each in some way reflect one of the seven heavenly virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.
It Happened One Night (1934)
This classic romantic comedy from director Frank Capra stars Claudette Colbert as a runaway heiress and Clark Gable as a witty reporter who falls in love with her. I won’t spoil the delightful antics of the film– if you haven’t seen it yet, you must– but they are often quite hilarious (“I’ll stop a car, and I won’t use my thumb!”), and the way the two protagonists honor premarital chastity when having to stay in a hotel room together (“Behold, the walls of Jericho!”) is refreshingly witty and endearing.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Disney’s magical animated musical adaptation of this classic fairy tale beautifully depicts the transformative powers of true love. The Beast is a symbol of Man without temperance, ruled by his appetite for self-indulgence and self-righteous anger. When Belle enters his life, not only is he healed by the tender love she develops for him, but he is also strengthened in virtue by the noble love that bubbles in his own wounded heart.
There are few films that more clearly yet artistically delineate the true meaning of charity than Disney’s modern classic Frozen. Not only is the old Disney cliche of a man and woman falling instantaneously in love hilariously parodied, but love is clearly shown to be synonymous with noble self-sacrifice, not mere infatuation. If you haven’t seen this film yet because of some anti-Disney-fluff bias, let it go and give the movie a chance.
The Big Sick (2017)
While this critically-acclaimed romantic dramedy starts off as typical Hollywood fare with casual sex and shaky definitions of love, it evolves into a touching, poignantly human story about a young man learning how to truly love his ex-girlfriend after she is placed into a medically-induced coma. Her parents initially reject him– after all, he did break up with their daughter– but they eventually grow to love him as he listens to what his heart is telling him and diligently goes to her hospital bedside every day. Based on a true story, it is consistently hilarious and ultimately heartwarming.
The Apartment (1960)
This absolutely delightful romantic dramedy from the masterful Billy Wilder tells the love story of a lonely office worker named Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and an adulterous but ultimately innocent elevator girl named Fran (Shirley Maclaine) who longs to fall in love with “someone nice” other than the slimy married executive Sheldrake. Baxter has a shameful vice of his own– he works his way up in the office by lending his apartment to adulterous executives– and Sheldrake happens to be his head boss. He comes home one evening to find Fran lying unconscious on his bed having taken one too many sleeping pills after an upsetting verbal exchange with Sheldrake, and with the help of his kindly neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss, he nurses her back to health and cares for her both physically and emotionally. You see, Baxter has loved Fran for quite some time now, and there is nothing he wants less than for her to end back up with his slimy, wife-cheating boss. Fueled by the right mixture of romantic desire and gentle compassion, he waits patiently for Fran to fall in love with him and meanwhile steadfastly gives her what she has never really received fully from a man before: genuine kindness and affection.
This is one of my all-time favorite Disney movies, and it wonderfully illustrates the truth that a little genuine kindness goes a long way in making a romance last. The innocent maiden Giselle (the delightful Amy Adams) is cast out of her cartoon fairy tale world and into the unhappy-ending-land of Earth by the sinister Queen Narissa, but this banishment turns out to be a blessing in disguise, for her childlike outlook on life shines a bright light into the lives of a cynical divorce lawyer named Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and his sweet daughter Morgan, among countless others. Robert is dating a woman named Nancy who doubts his affection, and Giselle assures him through an extravagant musical number that the only way to make her sure of his love is to consistently do kind things for her (“How does she know that you love her?”). Robert’s cynical outlook on life and romance in particular is gradually transformed by Giselle’s living testimony to the power of loving kindness, illustrating the mysterious beauty of this indispensable virtue.
“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” So go the unforgettable words of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) to Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) at the now-legendary climax of the masterfully-crafted, unforgettably romantic WWII-drama Casablanca. Rick and Ilsa briefly rekindle an old Paris love affair when Ilsa happens to show up at the cafe that Rick runs in Casablanca, but they both know that it cannot last. Ilsa is a married woman, and her freedom-fighting husband Victor Lazlo needs her support in the battle against Nazi evils. As much as he is still madly in love with Ilsa, Rick is humble enough to let her fly away with Victor and leave him forever for the sake of the greater good. Real love takes great humility, and that is exactly what Rick and Ilsa nobly practice despite how emotionally painful it is for them. They may never see each other again, but at least they’ll always have Paris.
Well, that’s all, folks! What are some of your favorite movie love stories?