Life, distilled down to its essence is: Love and pain and everything in between. Stated differently, Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, which happens to be a film title from when dinosaurs lived in the neighborhood, or at least when bell-bottom trousers were fashionable. T-Rex did not wear them, those small arms could not button the fly.
This film is a bit of a curiosity. Most people have never heard of it. The film was made in 1971, but not released until 1972 in some markets and 1973 in others. The movie came and went, and stayed gone.
Remember, the early 1970s were an unusual time for films. Movie studios valued small, off-beat films that pushed the cultural buttons. The film was written by Alvin Sargent (Julia, Ordinary People), a two-time Academy Award winner. Not much is available on the film’s origin. Alan J. Pakula (To Kill a Mockingbird, All the President’s Men) produced and directed. Maggie Smith starred as an older British single woman who forms a relationship with a younger American male, Timothy Bottoms, while on vacation in Spain. Smith was good in these awkward, spinster roles.
I saw this film in the mid-1970s while in college as I submerged myself if all kinds of American and foreign films. What drew me to the film initially was the odd title, but I also recognized the names involved in making the film and figured it must have something going for it. What you see on the screen perhaps made prospective audiences uncomfortable, or maybe not even curious. This was the film era of intimate views of relationships, as audiences expected more realism and social mores were now quite open. European filmmakers had been plowing this subject matter for years, while American filmmakers doused the subject in overwrought melodrama with method actors, smothering any sense of reality or authenticity. The exception was Harold and Maude, an even crazier film about a young man and a much older woman. Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing was not marketed with any interest after it sat on the shelf for more than a year, before being dumped on the market, dying a quick death.
The film is about two people who have kept away from intimate relationships and for who love is a foreign word. The off-beat title reflects a somewhat jaded view of life and the embrace of love.
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We all know what love is, we know it when we feel it. Here is my thought: Love is the invisible connective tissue that forms between people. It serves as a gateway to another’s soul. Love travels back and forth along that tissue. In a way, it is a feeding tube of life that bonds people together. There are certainly different types of love, but the common factor is deep concern and support for another.
This connective tissue can be strong and durable, woven threads stronger than steel and softer than silk. The stronger the connection, the more resilient the tissue.
But like everything of value, it can also be fragile: It pulls, it splinters, it stretches, and when it fractures, scar tissue grows in its place. Love can be the most fun excruciating experience.
What happens when you love someone? While they are very different types and the caring might come from different places: the heart verses the soul; you are extending yourself to care about another person.
To love someone, in the romantic sense or as one human being to another, can be such a rewarding experience. There is risk, although it greatly varies. Rejection is a possibility or a breakup after your heart has been tendered. Love is not always the Yellow Brick Road. That is the pain part of the equation.
We are familiar with romantic love, and love for family, friends and pets. Then there is the love we embrace with another’s soul, as a human being who we care about. These are people we want to succeed, be healthy and feel valued. In the New Testament, the term agape love refers to an unconditional or unselfish love for other human beings. Where I heard this term more recently used was in leadership training. We care for those we lead. As leaders, it is our responsibility to see that our people have what they need to succeed, and this includes giving them feedback. We praise them and give critical feedback when needed. Caring means honesty and support. Even experienced leaders find it uncomfortable to give negative or painful information. Constructive feedback, while it may not be easy or always welcome, is essential for growth and development. As leaders, it is our duty to be honest. As someone I respect once said, “We owe it to our people to have those hard conversations.” He is right.
And now back to our program…
In movieland, the Cowboy and the lady do not always ride off into the sunset, especially in the early 1970s, where they were more likely go different directions as the credits rolled. The whole damn thing is life. It’s what you do to keep that connection. It’s hard. It might be easier to just do what these two movie characters did before they met – stay alone.
Is being alone better than taking a chance, even if it is awkward and fearful of emotional vulnerability? That’s the question throughout history. Even the fearless often engage a defense mechanism, since they have memories of the wild shitstorm of breakup. A happy ending? That’s what Patriots owner Robert Kraft gets in a massage parlor.
As the end credits tell us who worked as the best boy in the film, we are left with an unresolved feeling. Is love worth it? Remember, in the 1970s, couples started living together without marriage, open relationships were a fad, the sexual revolution was happening, and this was pre-AIDS. If you had a hang-up, the therapy and counseling industry was exploding, and if you needed daily relief, pop a Valium.
“I believe everyone who loves is going to get hurt at some level. Whether it’s familial or love shared between friends or especially in the realm of romantic love, it is going to stop us cold in our tracks and cause us to doubt its authenticity.” – April Allman, Today’s Woman
I like April’s take on it. Risky, yes, but is love a roll of the dice? If you are at a casino, no? The odds are with the house. There is no sure thing, forget about it!
There is a saying that I believe to be true: The sweetest fruit is farther out on the limb.