Love is as integral to the human experience as hunger. That sounds awfully trite and cheesy, but it’s true: it’s just something that we do, like sleeping, or yelling at people on the internet. It’s no surprise, then that love stories are almost as old as stories themselves. Poets, painters, playwrights and plenty of others have tried to capture love in all its intensity and fervour throughout the years.
But who said it best? Well, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. What follows is a list of some of my favourite stories; some of them are about love, others simply involve love in some way, but all of them have something beautiful and poignant to say about the way love works.
Dodie Clark: Intertwined
Anyone familiar with Dodie Clark’s YouTube channel will know that she has a lot of well-thought out things to say on a wide variety of topics. Her content, and especially her music, is made special by her unique perspective, giving her works and lyrics a twist that stands out, even in the vast YouTube community. ‘Intertwined’ is the title track from her debut EP, and on a first listen might sound sweet, even light hearted. That simply isn’t the case though; a quick watch of the music video is more than enough to prove that. It’s not a cutesy little track about how love will always overcome anything; it’s a provocative, and uncomfortably eye-opening confession about the strain mental health issues (and unhealthy ways of dealing with them) can have on relationships. As macabre as a good Poe poem, and as honest as the likes of Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath, this track is just pure gold.
Arcade Fire: “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”
Okay, I can’t really give Arcade Fire full credit for this one; this pair of songs from 2013’s Reflektor are based on the ancient myth of Orpheus, who traveled to Hades to beg for his wife to be returned to him. Hades agrees, on the condition that he doesn’t turn and look at her until they’re back on Earth; at the last moment, he turns, doubtful that the Gods were sincere, and he loses her forever. That in itself is one of the most powerful love stories ever told; tragic and beautiful, like a good Bruce Springsteen song. But leave it to Arcade Fire to spin them into something even better: the myth becomes part of a complex metaphor for two young lovers struggling to come to grips with harsh truths about themselves and the world around them. It’s not your typical love story, but it’s true to the genuine, sincere love at the heart of the original myth.
La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)
This, as far as I’m concerned, is the love story to end all love stories. There are still people out there who complain that this film doesn’t have a happy ending, and I think they’re missing the point. You may have noticed a somewhat consistent theme so far in this list: flaws. I like when love isn’t so straightforward in stories, and La La Land certainly has that, but it ends in happiness all the same. Its protagonists are flawed, especially Ryan Gosling’s Seb: he’s awfully stuck in his ways, and the film lets him be a jerk at times. Spoiler alert: things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to in the movies – the central relationship is a young love fling that can’t quite stand on its own once time and distance get the better of them. But the love is real, and by the end of the film they’re mature enough to both end on good terms and find other ways to be happy (and other people to be happy with). That’s why I love this film: because love at first sight isn’t a thing, and heartbreak isn’t necessarily an ending.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Bryan Lee O’Malley)
Hear me out, damn it. For the record, while both are fantastic, I’m referring to the series of graphic novels, as opposed to Edgar Wright’s film adaptation. The film handles the relationship between Scott and Ramona brilliantly, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just more depth in the graphic novels. We learn way more about Scott’s romantic history here, and it gets real emotional at points: the film has a pretty fast past that can sometimes undercut more emotional moments, but O’Malley’s original story lets them breathe. At the end of the day, Scott Pilgrim is like any other 20-something who still thinks he’s a teenager: he’s kind of goofy, he doesn’t really know what he wants, and he’s been through some stuff. The way the graphic novels talk about it is pretty mature for how slapstick it can be, and pretty adorable for how sad it can sometimes get. If you’ve only ever seen the film, I wholeheartedly recommend the comics.