Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #20

Re: The Notebook (2004)

My husband and I are avid fans of your excellent site. We’ve watched The Notebook again since reading your review. You raise many valid objections, starting with the superficiality of the relationship between the young Noah and Allie; this is indeed a very flawed film, and the negative moral/spiritual value score of minus-2 is sadly deserved. The most troublesome line is, “She agreed with all her heart but couldn’t understand why, at the moment she said yes, Noah’s face came to mind.” Well, because she didn’t agree with her whole heart! Purity of heart, Kierkegaard tells us, is to will one thing; most characters in this film don’t know that, and the one that does goes ”a little mad” with his obsession.

However, your post currently has essential factual and interpretative omissions which obscure some of film’s better qualities. I’m starting from the basic premise that this film is a “chick flick.” It’s marketed to young women, so we need to see it from the perspective of the intended audience.

Indeed, Allie is violent, and she and Noah interact with immaturity and recklessness. Still, there are factors contributing to the physicality in their relationship beyond lust or even distorted ”love.” At 17, Noah and Allie don’t have the relationship skills to deal honestly with their class differences without fighting — she doesn’t even tell Noah she’s been accepted to Sarah Lawrence College before her mother’s intervention. They dream of their future together and they attempt to have sex rather than to deal with their imminent separation and how to handle it.

The parents, though, bear much responsibility as well. The Hamiltons see their daughter dressing immodestly and behaving provocatively, but they practically encourage what they hope will just be a “summer romance.” While Noah and Allie don’t face it till they are breaking up, they both know the Hamiltons wouldn’t support their marrying. The young couple doesn’t have a realistic means of achieving its natural goal, and Noah and Allie settle for unchastity instead. In contrast, Lon and Allie later kiss, get engaged, and set a wedding date. Lon and Allie have opportunity and motive, but they don’t have sex, and a large factor is her family’s support. There’s no perceived need for settling. So yes, the drama does side with Noah and Allie, but it also offers an unspoken caution. In the vocabulary of Catholic parenting, it is wrong to neglect a child in his or her formation, just as it is wrong to force a child in his or her vocation.

Did Allie and Noah marry? Hands down, yes, and this fact is clear to a young woman viewer. We may even have photographic evidence of that in Duke’s album. There’s a picture of Duke/Noah and Allie both holding up three fingers and him pointing at her pregnant stomach — another child is to be welcomed into the family. To the far left is a picture of Noah in a tie and Allie in a white dress, sitting at a table. They may be signing their wedding registry, though I’m not positive about that.

There are about a dozen scenes throughout the film where we see Duke/Noah wearing his wedding ring — and one of the earliest is a gratuitous close-up of him adjusting his glasses with his left hand, so that almost no young woman, at least, will be left with any doubts about his marital status!

Likewise, early in the family scene, we see Allie’s wedding ring for the first time, but the astute young woman viewer notices that Allie is wearing just a plain band, not the engagement ring from Lon. Perhaps she simply isn’t wearing such an ornate ring in the nursing home? No. In between the two photos I described above is a picture of Duke/Noah and Allie where she has a different fancy ring on her ring finger — perhaps an engagement, evening, or anniversary ring, but something we don’t see elsewhere. It’s not the engagement ring from Lon. In total, there are about half a dozen scenes late in the film where we see Allie’s wedding band. The shift comes once Allie has been hugged by the boy later identified as “little Noah” (Noah Jr. in the credits), and she decides to go rest; once Allie is out of earshot, the kids acknowledge her as their mother.

You are quite right that “the story of the aged Noah reading to addled Allie — is far more evocative and interesting than the actual story in The Notebook.” Just as it behooves us to raise concern about the unchastity in the film and the tenuousness of the relationship that somehow lasts a lifetime, we also need to credit the significance of the older couple’s story in this day of infidelity, divorce, and euthanasia. Duke/Noah and Allie did get married, and to each other, and they stayed together despite an all-too-common tragedy. “I’m not leaving her. This is my home now. Your mother is my home.”

Steven, it wasn’t until we were nearly engaged that my husband started to learn from me how I could tell a man’s marital status from 30 feet away. My single friends and I had no time to waste on other women’s husbands, and we learned to peer unobtrusively. Women, especially young women, are generally more detail oriented than men, so I understand why you overlooked this key point. Like I said, this is a “chick flick.” And given that chicks see the “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” message of The Notebook clearly packaged within the context of marriage, I hope you’ll raise the positive moral/spiritual value score of this film to a plus-2.

I accept your assessment as regards Noah and Allie’s wedding. I wasn’t looking for the wedding ring in part because it didn’t occur to me until after the screening was over to wonder whether they were married, and partly, no doubt, because I never had reason to assess a man’s marital status from 30 feet away, or even from five feet.

Your analysis of the good and the bad of Noah and Allie’s relationship seems to me both thoughtful and incisive — more so, I think, than the story itself. If all viewers brought this kind of moral perspective to movies, the need for critics like me to try to illuminate the moral dimensions of films would be greatly reduced. In particular, if all young women watching The Notebook brought the astuteness (not to mention the Kierkegaardian wisdom) of your remarks, my review would be superfluous.

At this point I couldn’t reconsider my ratings for The Notebook without revisiting the film itself — and that’s not very likely. However, ratings are much less important than commentary, and I’m happy to let your own comments (edited a bit for length) stand as a counterpoint to my review. Cheers.

Link to this entry

Coming Soon

Recently Added

In Theaters – Latest

In Theaters – All