“Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there: fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge—they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
This quarter, I had the opportunity to read and analyze George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I would not know where to begin when describing how much I love this book. There is a clear reason why this novel is one of the most critically acclaimed pieces of literature: Eliot is able to articulate the true beauty of ordinary lives. Yet when I read the novel’s ending, something clicked: a very similar message is in the 2003 Christmas movie Love Actually.
If you have not seen Love Actually (first off, go watch it right now), it follows multiple storylines that each exemplify loving relationships: whether it be romantic, familial, or friendship. As the movie progresses, we find out how these characters—from seemingly unrelated plotlines—connect. The opening and end of the movie feature real life scenes from an airport, with people greeting their loved ones at the arrival gate, which drives home the message that we are all connected. We all know what it’s like to give love and get back love in return; that universality allows us to understand one another.
Middlemarch is also a narrative following multiple plotlines that exemplify different relationships. Yet unlike the aforementioned film, this novel does not focus solely on relationships of love, but rather focuses on all kinds of bonds: the loving, the painful, the neutral and the complicated. It makes sense that Love Actually would not go down that route, because what a demoralizing Christmas movie that could be. But Eliot’s novel portrays the power of empathy. Middlemarch depicts people as being naturally self-involved: we tend to understand goings-on in relation to ourselves. Therefore, it’s easy to disregard the problems of others. Towards the end of the novel, Dorothea Brooke and Rosamond Vincy—two characters with supposedly little in common—cling to each other in the midst of convoluted uncertainty. The power to show compassion is unmatched; we do not have to be solely responsible for carrying our own burdens.
These two stories have much in common: the large cast of characters, the multiple plot lines that all connect, the idea of understanding empathy as ubiquitous. But would I argue that Love Actually is just a holiday-themed adaptation of Middlemarch? Although they are quite similar, I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion right away. There is a reason that this type of story is told and retold: it’s comforting to know that there is a universal part of the human experience. These stories remind us that, no matter what, we are never alone.