Get to “I Love You” with One Character

Far from Heaven (2002) is not an all-time great movie, but I confess I love it. Almost entirely for the ending, which to me is devastating.

Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker in Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven’

            I won’t spoil it for you except to say that our heroine (Julianne Moore as Cathy Whitaker, a 1950s suburban housewife) rides off into a very dark sunset. 

            And yet …

            And yet it’s a happy ending.

            I’ve wondered for a long time why this seemingly despairing finish is actually so uplifting. The answer struck me just now, writing this short series of “Get to ‘I Love You’” posts.

            The protagonist in Far from Heaven does not get to “I love you” with any other character in the story. 

            But she does get there with herself.

            There’s no scene that plays this transformation, at least not overtly. Cathy doesn’t have a moment when she looks into the mirror and her eyes meet the eyes of her reflection, or a scene where she literally verbalizes something to this effect.

            But the movie does execute a great non-on-the-nose version of this. (Again, I won’t spoil it for you.) 

            Get to “I love you” with one character is, in the deepest sense, what we’re all seeking in life, isn’t it?

            Self-acceptance.

            Self-affirmation.

            Self-belief.

            I had a letter just today from a young artist who was absolutely wallowing in self-loathing. Paralyzed to do her work. Hating herself. Seeing no way out.

            Resistance is a mofo, ain’t it?

            How much of our own self-disconnection, self-castigation, self-annihilation is straight-up Resistance?

            Face who we are.

            Accept it.

            Act upon it.

            Get to “I love you” with our own selves.

            P.S. Far from Heaven has an interesting origin story. The film was written and directed by Todd Haynes (Carol, I’m Not There) who apparently has always been a fan of movies by the mid-century director Douglas Sirk (All that Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life), whose films were stylish, languorous, glamorous 1950s melodramas. 

            Todd Haynes got it into his head that he wanted to do a Douglas Sirk-like movie … today.

            Far from Heaven was that.

            What’s fascinating to me was that Mr. Haynes originally intended to stage scenes shot-for-shot, camera-move-for-camera-move the way Douglas Sirk did. In other words, to imitate Sirk’s style exactly. But he found, when he tried this, that audience attention spans (not to mention his own) had shortened so dramatically since the 50s that he absolutely couldn’t do it. He had to compress and speed up everything.

            Anyway, that’s Far from Heaven. You may hate it, but I promise you’ll get the message in the climax.

            The movie gets to “I love you” with one character.

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22 Comments

  1. Mary Doyle on August 5, 2020 at 6:49 am

    I was happy to see Far From Heaven used as your illustration today. I haven’t watched it in a few years, but will put it on my watch list for this weekend. It stands as a true homage to Douglas Sirk’s films (and even though they are dated now, All that Heaven Allows, and Imitation of Life are two of my favorite “guilty pleasure” films). You’re absolutely right that the message comes through clearly at the end! I hope the artist who wrote the letter you referenced can move past her self-loathing – it’s a terrible place to be. As always, thanks!

  2. James Leonard on August 5, 2020 at 8:03 am

    I don’t usually comment here, but this one just hit me at the perfect time. I’ve done a lot of work on myself the past few years, but had a really dark moment last week where I was questioning … well, everything. Came out of it, though, and while I was journaling early Saturday morning, I literally said out loud to myself: I love you. I don’t think I’ve ever said it to myself, but I meant it. I could feel that it was real. Whatever block I was feeling about the book I’m writing is gone, and I’m going to get to “I love you” with every damn character, but it had to start with me. I actually don’t even feel Resistance right now — a feeling I do not trust in the slightest, but will enjoy while it lasts. Thank you, Steve.

    • Kati+Reijonen on August 5, 2020 at 8:37 am

      Beautiful…I got back to writing after months of despair and hopelessness, only to see that it makes me feel better. If only one could just write and not think about publishing and editors and marketing and sales…

      • Maureen Anderson on August 5, 2020 at 12:32 pm

        Here’s what helps me with that, Kati. I get so much out of the process of writing that any money (and there hasn’t been much) (yet!) is a bonus.

        More generally, this post reminds me what a gift marriage can be if you’re patient. You realize whoever you’re married to is a mirror, and the conflicts show you where the wrinkles are (so to speak). But the only way to smooth those out is by being at peace with yourself.

        Is that why they say all roads lead home?

        And finally, I get better movie recommendations, post by post, here than anywhere. The best one was Moneyball, which wasn’t on my radar (much as that pains me to admit) until I saw this…

        https://stevenpressfield.com/2011/11/david-ogilvy-michael-lewis-and-brad-pitt/

  3. M. H. Furlong on August 5, 2020 at 8:51 am

    I have found that self-loathing is cured, and quickly so, by coming out of myself and helping/caring-for/worrying/praying for and loving others. I suspect writers who only think and produce in first person are prone to self-loathing, doubt, etc.

    • Brian Nelson on August 5, 2020 at 2:48 pm

      M.H.,
      Have you read anything by The Arbinger Institute? They published three books: Leadership & Self-Deception, The Anatomy of Peace, and Outward Mindset. The first two are fiction, not literary behemoths but enjoyable enough to get the ‘story effect’ of important information. I have them on repeating re-listens as often as War of Art and Turning Pro.

      Bottom line is they teach the same think you just quoted. I’ve thought about it as this. I’m sitting at my desk, dark cloud over my head thinking about my shitty boss, shitty job, shitty life..whoa is me. Then, I look out the window and see a friend trip and fall dramatically on ice or something. Instantly I leap out of my chair to provide aid…where is the funk now? It vaporized the moment I could be of use to another…

      Obviously easier said than done, but I think you nailed THE truth of human existence.
      bsn

  4. susanna plotnick on August 5, 2020 at 8:51 am

    I just wrote “Accept who you are.” on a piece of paper, colored it bright pink, and put it on the bulletin board in front of where I am illustrating my book. My work is dark and the story I am telling is not easy to tell, but I am rewarded by incredible richness if I just put everything I have into it. Thank you, Steve, I needed this today.

  5. Mia Sherwood Landau on August 5, 2020 at 8:57 am

    If there’s ever been a time in history where we might have been as motivated to get there than we are now, I cannot think of it. Getting to “I love myself” is the panacea for the pandemic. It’s all we have, and in the end, it’s our greatest compliment to our Creator. Yes, we love characters who manage to do it. They inspire us to do it, too.

  6. Stephanie Clayton on August 5, 2020 at 8:59 am

    I love this film, and this post. It perfectly addresses this weeks’ mood. Thanks, Steve.

  7. Bing on August 5, 2020 at 10:18 am

    If I say to myself “I love you” it could be a totally evil emotion. I am assuming we are including humility,compassion for myself and others, forgiveness of myself and others. I have not seen the movie so please forgive me if I am not getting the point of all this.
    Shalom to all.

  8. Terry Weaver on August 5, 2020 at 10:50 am

    Steve, I feel a romance novel coming from you? 🙂 S/F

    • Steven Pressfield on August 5, 2020 at 12:50 pm

      Could be, Terry!

  9. Roy on August 5, 2020 at 11:12 am

    Hi Steve. I really want to thank you for this post as I have been struggling with the ending of my novel and this has given me the key. I am also a fan of Far From Heaven and will be watching it again. Thanks again for all the continuing help and inspiration I get from you and all this wonderful community of writers

  10. Margret Dugan on August 5, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    And, I love you.

  11. Susan on August 5, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    Hi. Adore the material!
    I journal. I try to use different colors depending on my thoughts. Do you think readers down the road are less inclined to read lighter colors, Say red or purple as opposed to light green?

    Suffering.Zoom fatigue. And barn crazy cats.
    Susan

  12. Brian Nelson on August 5, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    Yikes. So close to home it stings. These times are a perfectly designed environment for Resistance & self-loathing. The self-loathing was (IMHO) correctly diagnosed by M.H. above. There is so much ammunition to feed my confirmation bias that I have wasted hours, days, weeks being angry at the … choose the target: government response to COVID-19 (too restrictive, too little intervention…tyranny or irresponsible), the protests/riots, the fatigue of it all…

    What has brought me out of a funk is usually a combination of: re-finding my focus/purpose, physical exercise, and ironically–fasting. My own difficulty here is that I made a significant business proposal to a government agency just as this hit. Was completely changing my business focus, believe I’ve found it–but now awaiting a response. Hard to be tactically patient.

    Something that occurred to me on a recent ‘boot-strap pull-up’: When I do nothing but wait for a response, I am acting without faith. Faith is an interesting concept that I’m wrestling with, I believe it can be both pragmatic and religious–but acts of faith are the same in behavior. I must act without evidence. Hard, but doable.

    To pull it back to the theme–when I act in the face of nothing, no positive feedback, act in faith–that is a demonstration of self-love. I’m the stubborn mule who must act it out in life before I believe in my head.
    bsn

  13. Yvonne on August 5, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    This helps immensely with the story I’m writing on many levels, but, I am *exactly* where you stated the person was that contacted you: “absolutely wallowing in self-loathing. Paralyzed to do her work. Hating herself. Seeing no way out.” I am always grateful for your posts, but this one really hits home, as I too am paralyzed. This is incredibly timely for me, and reading this has really made my whole day (maybe my whole month!) and is giving me the encouragement to move forward. All I can say is a deepest, heartfelt thank you for sharing this post.

  14. Terry on August 5, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    So powerful……thanks!

  15. Joe Jansen on August 6, 2020 at 10:01 am

    I haven’t seen this film. But reading the summary, I like the parallel plot lines — Frank and Cathy each treading the ground of different social taboos of the ’50s. From the summary, I can’t discern which character may have gotten to “I love you,” but when I watch, I’ll have an eye peeled.

  16. Heidi E Haaland on August 8, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    This is the best comment thread.

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  18. Madalena on August 17, 2020 at 5:37 pm

    In my short life I have found that there are two types of love. One love is transient and based only on condition. On conditions that come with expectations. If love is only granted on condition that you fill someone else’s expectations or face disapproval or the with-holding of love – then you are seeking validation from outside yourself. You will be forever seeking for someone to make you feel what you desperately need to feel. Unconditional love comes from a place that has no expectations or the need to gain a sense of worth from outside yourself. You can experience life without need, and enjoy what it brings without expectation. This to me is the only true freedom. However, it comes with a price…you become so enthralled in living life, that writing isn’t the only expression, your life and what you get from it becomes an art in itself.

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