Valentine’s Day is marked by a variety of events for people everywhere who have expectations high, low, and indifferent. There are those who will enjoy a candlelit dinner, a surprise bouquet of roses and an expensive gift. For every one of those, there are at least ten women who will empty a box of wine and a box of Kleenex while watching Pride and Prejudice, and at least ten men who will dutifully squire their lady to the latest Nicholas Sparks novel-turned-movie and think it would have been easier (on their mind if not their wallet) to have gone to Jared. There will also always be a part of the population content to scorn commercialism and forced romance and settle in to watch one of these decidedly anti-Valentine movies owned by (or, if lost or stolen, coming back soon to) the Fayetteville Public Library.
After enough episodes of 48 Hours: Mystery, murdering a spouse for financial gain can seem downright commonplace, but these next three films from the golden age of Hollywood give it a classy sheen. In the Hitchcock masterpiece Suspicion, Joan Fontaine is an heiress so swept away by Cary Grant’s clenched-jaw charm that she doesn’t even care if he’s probably plotting her demise in order to pay off his gambling debts. The scene where he is carrying a glass of possibly poisoned milk upstairs to her at bedtime is one of the most talked about in movie history. Because Hitchcock seemed to want viewers to like his villains, the ending is blessedly uncertain. Ingrid Bergman is at her teary-eyed best in Gaslight, married to an oily Charles Boyer who mentally torments her ever-so-subtly, just a little bit every day. His goal? Convince her (and everyone else) that she’s crazy and whisk her away to an asylum so he can get his hands on a stash of diamonds rumored to be hidden in her family home. Without the camp, the movie would be rather sad. To paraphrase the Faulkner short story “A Rose for Emily,” Ingrid, being left with nothing, clings to that which robbed her—in this case, of her sanity. Fred MacMurray tries to sell a blonde Barbara Stanwyck life insurance in Double Indemnity, and because he can’t keep his mind or his hands off her ends up being implicated in the death of her husband and the defrauding of his employer.
Fatal Attraction, which did much for fidelity when it came out in 1987, shows Michael Douglas learning that the no-strings fling is truly a myth. He briefly romances Glenn Close, then watches his life being destroyed as her flirtatious manner turns obsessive, then desperate, then deadly. Pet rabbits have never been safer since.
Speaking of Michael Douglas, no self-respecting moviegoer could accuse Basic Instinct, the modern-day movie that brought noir back, of being about love, really—more like intense fascination and, well, instinct. Sharon Stone is the most well-groomed serial killer (maybe) on record, and Douglas is the detective who keeps following a trail of bodies that seem to lead directly to her bedroom.
When the only foreign-language film on this list, Audition, was released in the United States some theaters offered an additional free movie ticket to all people who sat through an entire showing without losing control of their bodily functions or running out of the theater in terror. A lonely widower, at the urging of his best friend and son, holds a fake movie audition in order to screen a selection of beautiful women that he could possibly talk into matrimony. He wins the prize for bad judgment and chooses a delicate beauty who is actually a quite tough and extremely twisted (remember the no loss of bodily functions clause?) murderess, whose skills include torture, torture, and…wait for it…torture.
Not every movie on this list has to include death and dismemberment to prove that love is pain. In The Way We Were, Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford love each other with all of their hearts, but differences in political beliefs, work ethic, and basic personality will not stand up to the daily grind of the real world. This is probably the most realistic and relatable of all the films mentioned here.
High Fidelity was based on a novel by Nick Hornsby and the soundtrack is as important as the plot, making it practically tailor-made for hipsters before they became an everyday entity. Perpetually glum John Cusack is the owner of a record store who is breaking down his top five break-ups through list-making, over-analyzing, and finding a song for every occasion.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind opens with a cynical quote about Valentine’s Day, thereby making it the end-all of this list. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are former lovers who decide to have each other erased from their respective memories. Don’t tell me everyone wouldn’t be clamoring for this service if the technology existed—the average person probably longs for at least one do-over on a daily basis. In the process of forgetting each other, the Jim Carrey half of the equation realizes he deeply loves Kate. The ending isn’t crashingly depressing, but the frantic run-around leading up to it makes the watcher feel a little drained.
So when February 14 gets here, if you are not destined to be part of the candlelit dinner and roses set, consider taking home one of these movies from the library and enjoy just a bit of un-Valentine’s Day time. Boxed wine and Kleenex not included.