What is the real reason why romantic movies, as awesome and memorable as some of them may be, will never quite match the real thing? It actually all boils down to lived experience. Someone can tell you about love, others can describe suspense, while some can describe belonging and passion. Though this is all well and good, but the problem is—you can only talk in universal terms.
That’s the best a movie can do. Why? It has to appeal to a wide audience, otherwise, it’s not going to make any money.
Now, you probably already know that just because a lot of people are watching the same phenomenon, doesn’t necessarily mean that they all agree on the phenomenon. It doesn’t necessary mean that they all speak the same emotional language or they work from the same emotional script. After all, people come from different backgrounds, and different experiences shape people.
If you want to truly want see the world from the perspective of another person, you need to experience what they experienced, go through what they had to go through. Now, do you realize how complicated this is? Can you picture why romantic movies can never really capture the essence of romance? It can only use rhetorical tricks, and only use emotional sleight of hand.
In a way, it’s programed to operate like this because it has to please different people. There is no one sort of movie message that will resonate with all the people because of the fact that we are all different, and we all had different experiences.
So, what are you going to do? You shoot for the lowest common denominator. This is the essence of method acting. Actors ranging from James Dean, to Marlon Brando, to Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino understand this. They don’t go out of their way to truly come up with the emotional range that is specific to individuals in the audience—it won’t work. That borders on mimicry.
Instead, they focused on the lowest common denominator. They look at all the audience members and understand from their cultural assumptions that they would basically agree on a certain narrow range of emotions. A great many actors zero-in on that narrow range and project it to the people watching. People then read-in their meaning and they get affected. That’s how it works.
This mechanism also explains why romantic movies will never be as good as the real thing. You won’t get that feeling that you have butterflies in your stomach, or get that same level of raw emotional urgency. You won’t get that sense that if you don’t make her smile or laugh—that you have dropped the ball—it’s the end of the world.
Understand the limitations of cinema because it’s too easy for movies to become victims of our expectations. It’s as if we expect so much authenticity and sincerity from the cultural products we consume that we end up sabotaging our enjoyment of them. In a way, it’s a good idea to avoid reading meaning into a lot of stuff that we consume. Instead, it could be very helpful if we just take things on surface value from time to time. This definitely applies to cinema.