I was late to The Notebook frenzy, watching it after everyone was gushing over Ryan Gosling after it won many awards at the MTV Movie Choice Awards, and after it was out on DVD. Nevertheless, I was enthralled.
I fell in love with the story, the characters, and I cried a river.
When its recent 15-year anniversary came to pass, it triggered a desire to look back at what made this pop culture phenomenon so attractive and to check if its charm has aged well or not.
We all know the heartbreaking story.
Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie’s (Rachel McAdams) romance is pitted against so many “villains” in this “poor boy and rich girl” romance. Rich parents, WWII, and another love interest are just three of the obstacles.
The 15th anniversary fell during Pride Month, and unfortunately, it saw reports portraying a less than romantic vision of Nicholas Sparks who tried to ban an LGBTQ+ organization forming at a prep school he set up in North Carolina. He later apologized and published a statement declaring himself “an unequivocal supporter of gay marriage, gay adoption, and equal employment rights”.
It’s heartbreaking when one individual casts shadows and doubts over a great artistic piece. Shall we forgive and understand Sparks or throw away all the books, movies, and romantic dreams he has created for us?
The shocking part about Sparks’ comments is the abyss that’s now created between his sentimental, heartfelt stories and the total lack of respect and compassion for the LGBTQ+ community. His gesture injects doubt into all his stories which, sappy as they are, triggered emotional responses, dreams, and hope for his audience. How can we still believe he is genuine in telling his stories after learning that he holds such reservations?
This side of him prompted a critical view of his work and it turns out, The Notebook is guilty of some crimes of its own.
I first watched the movie when I was 18, about a year after it hit theaters. I was a teenager, filled with hopes and dreams of true love and The Notebook fuelled it. Noah is a humble, free-spirited and good-looking guy. Allie has a spunky personality, ready to challenge conventions and the will of her parents. Their chemistry is real – despite the two actors hating each other at the time of filming – you cannot help fall in love with them.
However, Noah “convinces” Allie to go out on a date with him after climbing the Ferris wheel and threatening to kill himself by letting go if she doesn’t accept his invitation. On their first date, he almost gets her run over by a car by lying in the street. They fight all the time, and we are fed the illusion that it is actually passion and romance, but in reality, it’s an unhealthy relationship.
It’s difficult not to be swept away in the emotional rollercoaster the movie takes you on. The passion that Noah and Allie share, the picture-perfect moments, and the enduring feeling that love conquers all make this movie a classic. Disney set up the stage when we were young – the princess must be saved – and later, movies such as The Notebook enhanced the desire to be, well, desired. However, the images portrayed in the book and its adaptation make it seem normal and romantic that an individual would go that far to be with his loved one.
Lon, Allie’s other love interest, is actually a decent guy who betters himself – as requested by Allie – before dating her, respects boundaries, and is also good looking. Him being a great guy is an artistic trick, to make her decision even more difficult, but I am sure there are many of us who would transition to Team Lon in light of recent Consent 101 lessons and discussions.
An additional issue is that Allie is a one-dimensional character. She is adorable and played with such charisma by Rachel McAdams that we don’t realize that there is not much revealed about her. She likes to have fun and she wants to go to Sarah Lawrence. Her reactions are made to appear overly dramatic and there is a lot of potential lost on telling the story of a young girl evolving into an adult, empowered woman.
The obstacles that are thrown in their way are cliched mechanisms to make the readers and viewers suffer more, thus achieving a greater catharsis the end when we discover that they lived a happy and full life together.
On this specific note, as the granddaughter of a person who died of Alzheimer’s, I have to admit that Noah being with her until the very end, exhibiting passion and kindness and holding the love candle alight is absolutely admirable (and difficult to do in real life).
However, his ongoing pursuit of making her remember – which causes her to feel unwell and which is not supported by the children – enforces the idea that, as sweet as he was, Noah has a one-track mind, with little respect to Allie’s needs, depicting an entitled masculine attitude.
The Notebook represents a spectrum of love-can-conquer-all romantic products, which in turn are emotionally-manipulative and take advantage of our need to belong and to love. Some might find The Notebook a sappy, saccharine love story (as most of the critics did 15 years ago), or have decided to let go of the adolescent nostalgia the movie triggered because of Sparks’ recent scandal, or you might even hold on to the passion and the feels of the movie.
Wherever you are on that spectrum, you deserve a better love than the one in The Notebook.