This is the year that technology will kill romance. I don't like the thought any more than you do, but it must be true because I read it in The New York Times -- and The Atlantic. Dating is becoming obsolete thanks to texting, and monogamy is on the fritz thanks to online dating. All signs point to a romantic Doomsday, just in time for Valentine's Day.
But I don't think romance is dead -- it just looks different nowadays because technology lets us communicate with each other way too much. (Remember that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing that people used to say?) Nowhere is this more evident than in movies, where romance is built on longing: Missed connections, crossed signals, and love letters sent over long distances.
Think Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca. The intensity of their romance is magnified by the reality that after one glorious frolic in Paris, they may never communicate with each other again. Sure, they'll always have Paris. But they'll never be able to look back at sepia-toned photos of themselves in front of the Eiffel Tower on Instagram.
From a cinematic point of view, technology stinks when it comes to epic romance. Just imagine how some of our favorite romantic movies from days gone by would be different if the characters had smartphones and social media:
1.) An Affair to Remember
This 1957 movie is a real bummer, as illustrated by Rita Wilson's emotional breakdown in Sleepless in Seattle. Terry and Nicky, both engaged to other people, meet on a cruise and realize they're falling for each other. They agree to get their lives in order and meet at the top of the Empire State Building six months later. But on the way, Terry gets hit by a car and is severely injured. Nicky assumes he's been rejected and moves on with his life. He only realizes years later that the whole thing was a tragic misunderstanding.
21st century ending: The to-be lovers exchange info on the cruise - just email addresses, in case one of them is a serial killer. Terry suggests meeting on top of the Empire State Building in six months, Nicky wonders why all the drama (Terry posts a comment about romance being dead on Facebook). But she never gets hit by a car because they Skype chat instead. A year later, Nicky proposes to Terry, and she changes her status to "Engaged."
2.) Annie Hall
Annie Hall (1977) is basically a breakup movie, as Alvy Singer tries to find out why his relationship with Annie failed. From his point of view, neurotic love is the best kind. From Annie's point of view, neurotic love is, well, neurotic. The movie takes us through the ups and downs of their relationships (and a lot of therapy sessions), ending with a grand but awkward proposal from Alvy for Annie's hand in marriage. She says no, but they'll always remember each other fondly.
21st century ending: True to his neuroses, Alvy calls, texts, emails, Facebook messages and Tweets at Annie so incessantly that she gets a restraining order against him, and this turns into a creepy stalker movie.
3.) Dirty Dancing
College-bound Baby heads to a family summer camp in upstate New York in what looks like the 60s but sounds like 1987. During her time at Kellerman's Resort, she pays for Penny the dance teacher's abortion, royally pisses off her father, learns some sexy dance moves, and has a life-changing romance with bad-boy dancer Johnny Castle. By the time summer's over, she bids farewell to Johnny after losing her virginity but gaining the respect of her family -- remember, "Nobody puts baby in a corner."
21st century ending: Baby and Johnny become Facebook friends at the end of the summer so they can stay in touch. He keeps posting about fixing his car, eating jujubes for dinner, and getting paid for dance lessons with diamonds. Baby's friends ask about the guy who keeps posting mambo videos from YouTube. Eventually, they grow a part and only occasionally read each other's News Feeds.
4.) When Harry Met Sally
When Harry Met Sally (1989) starts off as a story about two recent college grads who repulse each other. But over the years, fate brings them together as friends. Of course, Harry believes men and women can't be friends because sex gets in the way... and it does for one brief rocky period. Eventually, Harry gets it together and realizes right before midnight on New Year's Eve that he needs to declare his love to Sally, who's alone at a party. Lo and behold, he gets there just in time.
21st century ending: During the period when Harry and Sally aren't speaking, Harry constantly Tweets about why men and women can't be friends or posts articles about the agony of modern love on Facebook. When he realizes he's turning into the kind of guy who spends New Year's alone trolling the Internet, he texts Sally: "You at Jesse's New Year's party? I'd be game to come over now that he got rid of that ugly wagon wheel table. Ha." They hook up and the drama repeats.
Okay, in real life, it's pretty great that we don't have to wonder if the great loves of our lives have been hit by taxis or thwarted by random events. But in contemporary movies, technology sometimes seems to lower characters' emotional IQs.
In Sex and the City, Carrie loses her cell phone, so Big can't tell her he's having doubts about getting married. In Silver Linings Playbook, there's a restraining order that prevents the main character from being in touch with his ex-wife, so he has to resort to sending her letters through a friend.
This doesn't mean contemporary movies can't be romantic - on the contrary, Silver Linings Playbook is what I wish more romantic comedies could be. Like all great love stories, it gets one thing right: Romance is not taking love for granted, whether it's on-screen, online, or face-to-face.