Love may confer a sense of inner rightness, peace and richness; or it may be a mode of transforming the self. Beyond enlarging and changing the self, love may also enable the lovers to break through the stifling limits of self. Hence, it is a mode of transcendence, frequently designated as a religion of two.
However, there are barriers to falling in love. Lovers may have reason to fear love. Passion can devour them. In unrequited love, the lover is tormented. Love is experienced as involuntary, not subject to conscious control and therefore an affront to reason if not madness. Even in love that is fulfilled there is a risk for the lovers. Mutual love can end slowly or simply turn sour. Most horribly it can end in ennui and the sense of emptiness. These are some of the fears that inhibit people from allowing themselves to fall in love.
However, love is also the glue that holds society together. Though it may begin as a religion of two, it evolves more often as a force that perpetuates the generations. And even if romantic love is often short lived, it is a mistake to think its transience disqualifies it from significance. To think this way is to glorify possession over experience. It is the experience itself and the difference it renders to a life that makes it valuable.
I would like to illustrate some of these points by recounting the story of 2005 French film called “Lila Says”. “Lila Says” tells the story of a quiet young poet named Chino who develops a crush on the pretty, blond Lila recently moved into his Arab ghetto with her aunt. Chino is recognized by his French teacher as having literary gifts. The teacher offers to help Chino get into a free school for writers if he completes a 30 page manuscript. The manuscripts will be submitted to the school who will judge his merits as a writer. The manuscript becomes an account of his encounter with Lila.
The title “Lila says” connotes a story of Lila calling the shots. Nothing ever grows in Chino’s neighborhood except a lone tree. There is no work for the Arab youth. Chino felt from the first, that Lila coming to the neighborhood was the most magical, radiant and exciting things that ever happened. He was tongue tied from the first moment he met her. Lila drives a motor bike and she is pushing it up the hill when she first meets Chino. She says to Chino, “See how white my skin is, see how blue my eyes are. Would you like to see some of my body?” Chino is speechless. Lila says you better say something or you will lose your chance. Chino indicates that he wants to see some of her body and she complies by displaying portions of it. The next scene is Lila asking Chino if he would like to go for a ride on her motor bike. He indicates that he would and while they are driving, Lila is in front and Chino is driving from behind. Lila impulsively displays more of her body while they are driving. Lila asks if Chino would like to make love. Chino acknowledges he would and she caresses him while he is still driving. Chino is for the most part totally tongued tied, even though it is clear that he is very infatuated with Lila. Later, Lila is sunbathing while Chino is visiting her. She asks him to rub suntan lotion on her and is quite provocative to speechless Chino.
A rival and gang leader also has a crush on Lila. Chino’s principal demonstration of affection for Lila is displayed by his successfully defending her against the gang leader’s harassment. Lila falls more deeply in love with tongue tied Chino and eventually tells him that she would like them to marry, share a life together and have children. Chino, to his great dismay, is speechless. Meanwhile, the rival gang leader is jealous of Chino’s relationship with Lila, goes to her apartment and sexually assaults Lila while the gang members watch. Chino gets to Lila’s apartment too late to stop this. He is only able to beat up the gang leader until the police arrive and take them all to jail. Lila leaves France for a vacation in Poland. Chino beseeches the police officer to allow him to contact her. The police officer finally relents to Chino’s pleas and dials her phone number. When he hears her voice, the speechless Chino finally says, “I love you Lila.” She replies, “I know”. We then see Chino on his way to the writer’s school in Paris and he comments, “Lila changed my life.”
Why is Chino so frightened of expressing his love for Lila? Chino’s being unable to speak to her dramatically demonstrates his barrier to allowing himself to fall in love with Lila. Why was he so tongue tied?. One reason is that he fears that losing control and surrendering to love means abandoning reason and surrendering to emotion. Being out of control is a precondition to falling in love and some people fear this. A second reason could be fear of annihilation. Because he is in love with Lila, he idealizes her and she acquires tremendous power to either to validate his self worth by responding to him or shatter his sense of self by rejecting him. He says Lila changed his life. How? We can speculate that he was enormously affirmed that such a beautiful woman loved him. He also overcame his fears of loving. The transformative power of romantic love to change personality is one theme that I will explore.