What does Passion Look Like?

passion

n. any powerful or compelling emotion, as love or hate.

Its passion that separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the hounds from the pups. As viewers, we only want it for the characters as much they want it for themselves. So here we go: A tour through cinema’s icons of passion:

10. The Blind Flower Girl in City Lights

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It takes one flower exchange for the Tramp to fall hopelessly in love. One simple gesture of kindness, and he becomes instantly, singularly devoted to this poor little street girl.

That feeling guides him into uncertain promises, and, most comically, into a boxing ring. He reaches into unexpected places to provide her with the things he knows she deserves (namely, eyesight by way of corrective surgery). And by the end of it – following a few months in prison that she’ll never have to know about – he is suddenly all she can see.

9. Wrestling in The Wrestler

Randy “The Ram” Robinson is kind of a fuck-up. His romances end before they start. His daughter hates him. He has a few fans, but not really any friends. Like him, they’re aging. Unlike him, their love for the sport is fleeting.

Unfortunately for Randy, his body can’t really take it. Performance enhancement drugs don’t really help an ailing heart – and when its broken? Hell, what’s a man to do? In a world of complexity, that answer’s simple: Keep fighting.

8. Cowboy Love in Brokeback Mountain

Love is exciting. Particularly the forbidden kind. Even more so when cowboys are involved. More still when those cowboys are Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

It may have taken two hotties to start a 21st century dialogue on gay love in the south, but that’s okay when the story is this compelling. We see the things that pull them away from one another – the need for a conventional lifestyle, the fear of self acceptance, the families back home. But nothing, not even the smell of horse poop, can override their intense desire to sex on each other like the wild jack rabbits they are. Even when they separate, they’re never apart.

7. Burning Nazis in Inglourious Basterds

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Yeah, Kill Bill’s The Bride is pretty kick-ass. She had a pretty extensive hit-list and she didn’t skimp out on it either. But Shoshanna is the one who really deserves a spot on this list.

Her whole family is murdered by Nazis. And when presented an opportunity to enact revenge, she does it with masterful focus. Imagine sitting across a dinner table from the man you know killed every person dear to you. Imagine holding all that festering resentment inward and smiling and acting like he’s not the scum of the earth. Then imagine the satisfaction of having every major player in the Third Reich burned alive under your direction.

This movie gives us one of the most satisfying dramatic endings ever. Because Shoshanna’s revenge fantasy is not hers alone – it is shared by millions of others affected by Hitler’s regime.

6. The one that got away in The Social Network

Never before have I seen a movie that’s so succinctly linked a man’s professional successes with his romantic failures. The inhuman Aaron Sorkin is all about compelling characters. He writes movies that speak to our human need for dramatic storytelling, which is why its likely he took a fair share of creative liberties in writing the pseudo-villainous film version of Mark Zuckerberg.

But every one of that character’s conceited actions amount to something excusable in that final scene. Using his own tools under a framework of his design, he pathetically asks: Am I good enough now? Look at what I’ve done! This is for you. Then the self-conscious series of clicks commence. The page can’t refresh soon enough.

5. A murdered wife in Memento

How does one build a captivating plot around a guy who blacks out every 5 minutes? Easy. Give him one thing that he’ll always come back to. Something so precise that, even when the thought’s not there, the feeling burns. Something like: revenge against the asshole that murdered your wife.

Every second is valuable when you essentially rebuild your relationship to the world every few minutes. You don’t really know the difference between your enemies and friends. You don’t know where you are half the time, or how you got there or why. Without purposefully moving forward, this existence could become awfully meaningless. But he has his purpose. And in every frame, he chases it. Even when he has no idea where he’s going.

4. Oil in There Will Be Blood

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Our passions can often inspire greatness. But then there’s the other side of the coin. See: Daniel Plainview, a brilliant oil tycoon who systematically breaks his enemies and even his friends, depending on the day. This guy is the poster boy for social ineptitude.

Which is just too bad, really. What could have been brilliant business savvy devolves to monstrous bullying – and not only his competitors either. His hatred turns toward his own son and the righteous Eli (though that one’s kind of justified). In the end, he willfully exiles himself from human decency. And there’s not the slightest sign of remorse, regret, or redemption. Just an angry man in his bowling alley sitting in a mess of freshly killed pastor soup.

3. The One Ring in Lord of the Rings

Bearing the ring is pretty freakin’ cool. It makes you invisible and mega-powerful, suspends aging, lets you read minds. The particularly focused can unlock its full potential, but those of lesser will become pretty crummy people when they keep it on too long. Like, REALLY crummy. We’re talking Sauron-level dickishness here.

The ring enables an ideal, but it doesn’t guarantee it. And that conflict is what lends it a near unlimited symbolic potential. It could be entirely allegorical, a comment on human greed, addiction, love. Its the elusive thing that will reward the determined and destroy the meek. And it will change you in ways you never could have imagined.

2. Fay Wray in King Kong

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The pull of romantic love has inspired many-a-tale, but few rival the downright odd poignance of 1933’s King Kong. We all know the story: A huge gorilla-beast gets abducted from his homeland, put on display in NYC, then revolts and whisks away the one beautiful blonde that showed him any respect. Now, I know that’s familiar and doesn’t seem all that weird because you’ve seen variations of that story your whole life, but pretend for a second that that was your first time. I sound like a crazy person, right?

I would have been crazy. The people who wrote it were crazy. But only because they figured out a way to make it so darn sad. The would-be monster, under closer scrutiny, is actually a protagonist battered by a cruel world. Entirely out-of-whack, he tries to salvage the one beautiful thing he’s got in this brutal place we call Civilization. Which leads us to the two most important takeaways of this film. 1) Everybody loves blondes, and 2) Bestiality is not ok. (And there may be something about humanity respecting their fellow animal, but that’s of far less immediate concern).

1. The Rita Hayworth Poster in the Shawshank Redemption

Pop quiz. What makes a better story?

Option #1. A guy’s wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife. He’s super bummed about it, but he’s never been one to rock the boat, so he relents and quietly lives out his sentence.

-or-

Option #2. A guy’s wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife. So in the next 19 years, he secretly digs a tunnel from his cell to the outside world.

Sure, #1 has the potential to be “gritty” and “realistic”, but since when are true-to-life stories the best stories? We need the element of the fantastic. A reason to hope against impossible odds. Andy Dufresne focuses squarely on a single goal, and achieves it through sustained, quiet passion. The closest we get to a window into his soul are the blinds hiding his work: posters of iconic starlets Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Raquel Welch.

Those symbols spoke to Andy throughout his prison sentence. They delicately concealed a romanticized, sexy, almost consoling version of freedom. They kept him hanging on, and also gave him some pretty good masturbatory material. And, in the end, isn’t that all that any one of us needs?

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