1/9/08

Worthy Heroines

A la Tumperkin, I want to talk about romance today. Not that it's absent from my blog on regular days, but I want to specifically address an aspect of romance that has been front-and-center for me of late: the heroine's worthiness.

I'm not talking about moral worth or any arbitrary marker of virtue. She does not have to be a virgin. She does not have to be Beatrix Kiddo, wielding her hitori hanzo sword. Neither does she have to be a Mary Sue full of happy thoughts, covered in butterflies when she walks through a field of wildflowers.

She simply has to be a worthy match for the hero.

Why? Because if the author has done her job properly, or if the film (or some ridiculous television show featuring, say, a doctor traveling through space and time in a blue police box) does its job properly, I should come away from that fictional place with a serious crush on the hero. And in no way do I want to come away from that experience feeling that the hero has settled--settled for less than what a woman of my caliber could provide.

That's no joke. I'm dead serious. The heroine has to be a better, more lasting match for the hero than me.

If that happens, the spell is miraculous. I feel like they exist in some happy place where nothing bad can touch them, not even my irrational reaction to their fictitious happiness. They'll be a great team--two ox pulling at the same cart, as my mom once lovingly said about Keven and I. Then I can go about my business, released from that world until I want to return for a comfort fix, repeatedly in some cases.

If that doesn't happen, I get angry. And you don't want to see me when I'm Ang Lee. (That's for Keven. Don't ask.) When the hero settles for an unworthy partner, it reflects poorly on him and makes him, frankly, less heroic.

One of the most wretched films I've seen in years is Bridget Jones's Diary, precisely because of the forced connection between Colin Firth's portrayal of Mr. Darcy and his character Mark Darcy in BJD. The original Mr. Darcy is a man who finds a witty, sexy, strong, clever match in Lizzie, a woman who compliments his heroic qualities. He would do anything for her, and we as the readers (or viewers) cheer him on. We want them to succeed as a couple because they fit. Mark Darcy, however, loses credibility as a hero because the person he pines for is an irredeemable nitwit. What's sexy about that?

Mind you, I don't mind if a hero winds up with a nitwit, but it has to make sense. I'm thinking of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as an example. The characters played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are not examples of ideal partners, but they fit each other. They fit so well that I was a soppy, teary mess by the end. No one else would have worked for either--they barely worked for each other--but it made sense emotionally. Beautiful flick.

So back to "Doctor Who." Did you know I'd get to it eventually? I don't mind that Rose left. Really. It sucks, but what the hell were they going to do? Have them live happily ever after, bouncing between words to attend rock concerts and lie on exotic beaches? That would be like having James Bond settle down. No matter how much I disliked Rose leaving, and no matter how much I disliked the depressing ending of Casino Royale, long-term happiness is not within the parameters of these characters.

That said, I want the Doctor to suffer for a while. We're talking a bit of grinding, debilitating grief. I haven't seen Season Three yet, but I know Martha falls for him and he does not reciprocate. GOOD. For him to act differently would negate what he supposedly felt for Rose and would cool his good hero vibes. Eventually, when the good folks working on the series write another well-rounded, solid, likable, worthy partner for the Doctor, I'll be ready for her. Or him.

BTW, I know my brother argues that this goes the other way too. Heroes who are unworthy of the heroine make the heroine look like a moron. Too true.

Tomorrow I'll follow up this theme with a review of the recent BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre. Until then, I'm throwing questions to you lot: what movies or books can you cite where a hero or heroine was unworthy of his/her partner? Does this interfere with your enjoyment of a good romance? What do you need to consider the match a solid one--and therefore the ending a happy one?

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