Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Published on IMDb, the Internet Movie Database

A very funny film, with hidden depths.

It is said that if you need to explain a joke then it can no longer be funny. So the compulsion to explain why I think that `Four Weddings and a Funeral' is much more than just a very funny film is rather risky. But I believe that the movie is an example of a work of art that can be enjoyed at many levels. Enjoy it, certainly, as witty, very well acted, moving and engaging. But I would argue that it has a deeper quality – especially its ability to challenge prejudice and its touching belief in the ultimate decentness of people – and in the power of love.
Love is the central theme of all three of Richard Curtis's major films (`Four Weddings…'; `Notting Hill' and `Love Actually'). Curtis's credo is `amor vincit omnia' – although in ultimately conquering love may slip along the way. In `Four Weddings and a Funeral' the risks to love's happy resolution are all revealed and (mostly) conquered. Shortly before he dies at the Scottish wedding Gareth says `A toast before we go into battle. True love – in whatever shape or form it may come – may we all in our dotage be proud to say ‘I was adored once too'; and Carrie (the bride) quotes John Lennon in her speech - `Love is the answer'.Described in this way the risk of such a critique is that we navigate close to romantic novel territory. But Four Weddings never strays across this sentimental border. The ultimately happy ending (not just for Carrie and Charles but for all the characters in the photo montage over the credits) is only possible for Charles when, having at last declared his love for Carrie `I've loved you from the first second I met you', then asks her if `after we've spent lots of time together you might agree…not to marry me?'. No more weddings – but an agreement to spend the rest of their life together. And so it was (of course) with Gareth and Matthew - the relationship described by Charles at Gareth's funeral as the `perfect match'. Such a match can only be destroyed by death as Matthew acknowledges in his quote from Auden at the funeral `I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong'
The connection (or not) between love and sex is also addressed throughout the film. The unspoken sub-text of Carrie's slightly shocking revelation to Charles that she has had thirty-three lovers is that she didn't actually love any of them (including, as it turns out, the one she is about to marry). And Scarlett says `…most of the blokes I fancy think I'm stupid and pointless, so they just bonk me and leave me.' Charles is like this in Henrietta's description of him as a `serial monogamist' who will `never really love anyone, because you never let them near you.' Implied strongly here is the modern reality that sex (as an enjoyable pastime) can be decoupled from sex (as an expression of love). There is however the (moral?) suggestion that if you combine love with sex then that will be the best of all worlds. Whilst Bernard and Lydia reach the height of sexual passion together (and Charles crouches in a nearby cupboard) he says `Oh I love my wife' to which she replies `I…love…my…husband!'
The central theme of the film is really that love takes many forms. Platonic (Charles and Scarlett; Tom and his dog Jilly…) unrequited (Fiona for Charles); Single sex (Gareth and Matthew); hard work (Shy Serena and deaf David) and (crucially) the love that binds a group of true friends together. The film is not judgemental – other than to expose the crass (George, who asks `what use are the novels of Wordsworth') and the boring (John, the `38 going on 60 stockbroker').That the pursuit of love leaves casualties along the way is an explicit part of the film. Fiona's hopeless love for Charles, Henrietta's rejection by Charles at the altar; the failure of Carrie and Hamish's marriage (despite his confident statement at the wedding that his life with her would be a `joyful one, for years and years to come') are examples. But despite the wounds there is a moral message here as well – that living a lie or deluding yourself that there is love when really it is only lust, or convenience or habit is undesirable.
You can be as indecisive as Charles; as dim as Tom; as scatty as Scarlett as randy as Lydia; as intellectually brutal and honest as Fiona – none of this matters if, in the end, your heart rules your head and you allow true love to triumph.