You might wonder why an article with this opening title is appearing in my Mediguano forum. First of all, thus is not a movie review. That over with, to many of us who were young and naïve enough to sit through the movie “Love Story” when it was first released in 1970 [LOVESTORY, directed by Arthur Hiller; written by Erich Segal; starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw], the phrase “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” may evoke a number of responses ranging anywhere from fond distant loving memories of the steady girl/boy we held hands with during the movie, to something akin to an acute bout of gastroenteritis. As for the book, Roger Ebert wrote, “Segal’s prose style is so revoltingly coy — sort of a cross between a parody of Hemingway and the instructions on a soup can, “[LOVE STORY; Roger Ebert; Chicago Sun Times. January 1, 1970]. Judith Crist called Love Story “Camille with bullshit.” Writer Harlan Ellison eloquently called it, “shit” [The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion on Television; Harlan Ellison; LA Free Press (1970)]. Therefore, the symptom of gastroenteritis was not too far off.
For those of you that are either curious about this article to read past the title or somehow missed a golden opportunity to see the movie (Filmsite Movie Review, http://www.filmsite.org/love.html), or read the book, here’s the opening line:
(Background music “Where Do I Begin”, sung by Andy Williams)
“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And Brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.”
The basic storyline is Oliver “Preppie” Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal), is a pre-law, hockey player, Harvard student from a wealthy family (he calls his father “Son-of-a-bitch”) who meets and falls in love with Jenny Cavelleri, (Ali McGraw) an intelligent, a “Real tight-ass…plays piano for the Bach Society”, Radcliffe College student from a financially disadvantaged, loving family (she calls her father “Phil”).
Jenny: Are you a dirty player? Would you ever total me?
Oliver: I will right now if you don’t shut up.
Jenny: I’m leaving. Goodbye.
Jenny: “Now I’ve seen a hockey game”
Oliver: “What did you like best?”
Jenny: “When you were on your ass.“
Oliver: ”Thanks for coming.
“What would you say if I told you…I think I’m in love with you?”
Jenny: Never say “love” if you don’t mean it
Oliver: What would you say if I told you…I think I’m in love with you?
Jenny: Never say “love” if you don’t mean it
As time goes on, Oliver opens up to Jenny about his fears.
Jenny: “But verbal volleyball is not my idea of a relationship.”
Oliver: “If that’s what you think it’s all about, go back to your music waltz.”
Jenny: “I think you’re scared. You put up a wall to keep from getting hurt,
but it also keeps you from getting touched.”
Oliver: “It’s a risk, isn’t it, Jenny?”
Jenny: “At least I had the guts to admit what I felt. Someday you’ll have to come up with the courage to admit that you care. I care.”
Confronting their families proved to be a bit uncomfortable. After a tense moment meeting Oliver’s father, Jenny says to Oliver,
Jenny: “He was only trying to be helpful.”
Oliver: “I don’t need that kind of help. He’s not going to be satisfied until he cuts them off.”
Jenny: “What you wouldn’t like to be cut off? Oh… Well, we’ve got to take care of those. You really like to bug your father.”
Oliver: “The feeling is mutual.”
Jenny: You wouldn’t stop at anything to get to him.”
Oliver: “It’s impossible to get to Oliver Barrett, lll.”
Jenny: Unless maybe if you marry Jennifer Cavilleri?”
Oliver: “Is that what you think?”
Jenny: “Yes, it’s part of it.”
Oliver: “You don’t believe I love you?”
Jenny: “Yes, but you also love my negative social status.”
Oliver reluctantly tells his father about Jenny.
Oliver: “You haven’t mentioned Jennifer.”
Oliver lll: ”What is there to say? You’re presenting us with a fait accompli”
Oliver: “But what did you think? “
Oliver lll: She’s absolutely charming. With her background, to get to Radcliffe is…”
Oliver: “Get to the point! “
Oliver lll: “It doesn’t concern her, but you. Your rebellion. And you are rebelling. I fail…”
Oliver: “I fail to see how marrying a brilliant Radcliffe girl constitutes rebellion. She’s not some crazy hippie.”
Oliver lll: “She’s not many things.”
Oliver: “What irks you most, that she’s Catholic or poor?”
Oliver: “I’m leaving.”
Oliver lll: Don’t go off half-cocked. I would only ask that you wait a bit.”
Oliver: “Define “bit”.
Oliver lll: “Finish Law School. If it’s real, it’ll stand the test of time.”
Oliver: “It is real, but why should I put it through a test?”
Oliver lll: “I’m asking you. “
Oliver: “You’re commanding me!”
Oliver lll: “If you marry her now, I’ll not give you the time of day.”
Oliver: “Father, you don’t know the time of day!”
Against the advice of family and loss of financial support from Oliver’s father, they decide love conquers all and still get married.
Jenny: Who said anything about marriage?
Oliver: I’m saying it, now.
Jenny: “You want to marry me?”
Hmmm. Works for me.
They discuss their spirituality.
Oliver: “Why did you leave the Church?”
Jenny: “don’t know. I never really joined. I never thought there was another world better than this one. What could be better than Mozart? Or Bach? Or you?”
Later on, they explain to Phil about Oliver III’s blessing of the impending marriage and not marrying in the Catholic Church.
Phil: “Do not bullshit thy father.”
Jenny: “Any other commandments I should know?”
Phil: “Yeah, ”Stay loose.” So is he (Oliver’s father) for it? Does he approve?”
Jenny: “What do you think?”
Phil: “I won’t allow it, do you get me?”
Jenny: “You’re tilting at windmills, Phil. Stop calling his father a windmill. He’s a distinguished citizen…”
Oliver: “Mr. Cavilleri…Phil.”
Phil: “I’ll call his goddamn father.”
Jenny: “It won’t do any good, goddammit!”
Phil: “Don’t use profanity in this house.”
Jenny: “You do.”
Phil: “What will he think? “
Jenny: “That you’ve gone mad.”
Phil: “Because I won’t allow a parent to reject a child?”
Oliver: “Mr. Cavilleri… Phil. Phil, sir… I reject him, too!”
Phil: “Don’t talk like that. A father’s love is something to cherish and respect.”
Oliver: “It’s a rare thing. Especially in my family.”
Phil: “Let’s get him on the phone. We have this cold line. He’ll thaw and melt. Believe me, when it’s time to go to church…”
Jenny: “Please, Phil.”
Jenny: “About the church bit…Well, we’re kind of negative on it.”
Oliver: “But God would bless this union in any church.”
Jenny: “About the God bit.”
Jenny: “We’re sort of negative about that, too.”
Phil: “About God? About anybody’s God?”
Jenny: “Neither of us believe”
After their wedding, they reluctantly accept being students living on $3,000/year, living in “the Mongolian section of Cambridge”, paying rent on their own, paying their own bills, and not being able to do their own car repairs. However, when it comes up to engaging in a conversation regarding establishing a relationship with Oliver III, Oliver refuses to make the cacall on his birthday and let’s Jenny call for them.
Jenny (on phone): “Good evening, this is Jennifer Barrett….Mr. Barrett! Good evening, sir…Fine, thank you…Yes, we did. That’s why I’m calling…I’m terribly sorry, I mean we’re terribly sorry…but… no we can’t….I’m sorry.”
Oliver, please talk to him. Just say hello.”
Oliver: “I will never talk to him.”
Jenny: ”Can’t you do it for me? I’ve never asked you to do anything in my whole life. Just for me.”
Jenny: ”You’re a heartless bastard…Mr. Barrett? Oliver would like you to know, that in his own special way, (quickly into the phone) he loves you very much…”
Oliver: “Get the hell out of my life!”
Oliver angrily storms away. When he returns, Jenny is waiting outside the apartment and has been crying. She looks up and says,
Jenny: “I forgot my key.”
Oliver: “Jenny, I’m sorry.”
Jenny: “Don’t. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Oliver’s attitude begins to change and pays more attention to Jenny’s needs. Gone are the playful verbal jabs at one another. Oliver later tells Jenny hopefully, “Someday, we’ll look back on these days…”
Oliver graduates from Harvard law school (third place) and makes the Law Review. His greatest excitement was receiving the William DeJersey Memorial Award ($500) and working for the Jonas and Marsh law firm. What to do with money? They talked of having a baby (Bozo-her name for him). He told a friend Jenny wouldn’t have to work and support them anymore. He said, “I want her to study, she wants a baby. So we’re making babies.” He never said why he wanted to do those things. Noticeable absent in the script are the former outward verbal and sometime trivial expressions of their love for each other.
Two other problems develop. Despite being young, they are unable to conceive. Jenny is found to have leukemia. Not HIV-this is 1970. Disregarding current HIPAA patient confidentiality regulations that exist today, Oliver hears about Jenny’s condition directly from her obstetrician and after asking whose “fault” it was, says,
Oliver: “Two 24-year-olds can’t make a baby. One must be malfunctioning. Who?”
Oliver: “All right, then we’ll adopt kids.”Doctor: “The problem is more serious. Jenny is very sick.”
Doctor: “She’s dying.”
Oliver: “That’s impossible. It’s a mistake, it has to be.” ”
Doctor: “We repeated her blood test three times. The diagnosis is correct.”
Oliver: “What do I do? What can I do for Jenny?”
Doctor: “Act as normal as possible, for as long as possible. That’s really the best thing.”
Oliver: “Normal. I’ll be as normal as hell.”
Oliver does not say anything to her. Later, remembering that at one time she mentioned traveling to Paris was a dream, he surprised her with her Christmas present- tickets to Paris, France.
Oliver: “Paris, France. We’ll be there Christmas Day.”
Jenny: “No, that’s
not the way we’ll do it.”
Oliver: “Do what?”
Jenny: “I don’t want Paris, I don’t need Paris. I just want you.”
Oliver: “That you got, baby.”
Jenny: “And I want time, which you can’t give me.”
Jenny: “I’m counting on you to be strong, you goddamn hockey jock.”
Oliver: “I will, baby. I will.”
Jenny: “It will be hardest for Phil. You, after all, are going to be the merry widower.”
Oliver: “I won’t be merry.”
Jenny: “Yes, you will. I want you to be merry. You’ll be merry, OK?”
Later, as her disease progresses to its terminal end, Oliver tells the doctor he wants her “to have the best”, and, “whatever she wants…Screw the cost.” They didn’t have the money, so Oliver reaches out to his father to help Jenny.
Oliver: “I need to borrow $5,000 dollars for a very good reason.”
Oliver III: “Well?’
Oliver III: “May I know the reason?”
Oliver III: “Don’t they pay you at the firm?
Oliver: “Yes, sir.”
Oliver III: “And doesn’t she teach…”
Oliver: “Don’t call her “she”.”
Oliver III: “Doesn’t Jennifer…”
Oliver: “Leave her out of it. Just write out a cheque. It’s a very important personal matter.”
Oliver III: “You got some girl in trouble?”
Oliver: “Yeah, that’s it.”
Oliver III: “Please lend me the money.”
Oliver: “Thank you, Father.”
While holding each other in her hospital bed Jenny speaks to Oliver alone.
Jenny: “It doesn’t hurt, Ollie. It’s like falling off a cliff in slow motion.
Jenny: “Only after a while you wish you’d hit the ground already, you know?
Jenny: “Bullshit. You’ve never fallen off a cliff.
Oliver: “Yes, I did. When I met you.
Jenny: “Yeah. “What a falling off was there. Who said that?”
Oliver: “I don’t know. Shakespeare?
Jenny: “Yeah, but who? I mean, what play? I went to Radcliffe, I’m supposed to remember those things. I once knew all the Mozart Kochel listings.
Oliver: “Big deal.
Jenny: “You bet it was. What number is the A Major Concerto?
Oliver: “I don’t know. I’ll look it up.
Jenny: “But I used to know all those things.
Oliver: “Do you want to talk music?
Jenny: “What do you want to talk? Funerals?”
Oliver: “No, I don’t.”
Jenny: “Ollie? I told Phil you could have a Catholic service and you’d say OK. OK?”
Jenny: “lt’ll really help him a lot, you know?”
Jenny: “Now you’ve got to stop being sick.”
Jenny: “That guilty look on your face, it’s sick.”
Jenny: “Stop blaming yourself, you stupid preppy. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault.”
Jenny: “That’s the only thing I’ll ask you. Otherwise, you’ll be OK.”
Jenny: “Screw Paris!”
Jenny: “Screw Paris and music and everything you thought you stole from me.”
Oliver: “I don’t care, don’t you believe that?”
Jenny: “Then get the hell out of here! I don’t want you at my deathbed!”
Oliver: “I believe you. I really do.”
Jenny: “That’s better.”
Jenny: “Would you please do something for me?”
Jenny: “Would you please hold me?”
Jenny: “I mean really hold me. Next to me.”
Afterwards, Oliver meets Phil and his father.
Phil: “I wish…I wish I hadn’t promised Jenny…I wish I hadn’t promised Jenny to be strong for you.
In the next scene, Oliver sees his father, who arrives unexpectedly,
Oliver III: “Oliver.”
Oliver III: “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Oliver III: “I made some calls, and when I found out I jumped in the car.”
Oliver III: “Oliver, I want to help.”
Oliver IV: “Jenny’s dead.”
Oliver III: “I’m sorry.”
Oliver IV: “Love…Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
I was 16 when this movie came out. Looking back, we must have seen it 7 times in seven separate dates with 7 different girls. Hated it and it showed-probably why I never had a second date with any of them. Subsequently, whenever this movie has been brought up in conversation, the most frequent agreement has been how ridiculous the line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” really is. At our age, most of us have had a few bad interactions and at least one we’re willing enough to admit that we were in love with someone. We were in agreement that on more than one occasion, had we not said “I’m sorry” quickly and sincerely to that person we said we loved and presumably still loved us; we would undoubtedly be in a huge pile of crap very quickly. “Let’s get real. Since when do we hurt the people we know we love and care the most about and not feel remorse afterward and want to apologize?”
Which finally brings us to the subject of this rather lengthy prelude. I again have had the recent experience of hurting someone I cared very much about. Thinking back, it was something I did and had done on occasion at various times in my life for which I sincerely felt remorse for and apologized by honestly saying, “I’m sorry.” Not that it was forgiven or, more importantly, they the person I had hurt was happy again. I felt better, of course but what was the point? In many ways, it was my pain of hurting them that was the driving force behind the verbal response, “I’m sorry.” Somewhere along the way the point was missed that actions do speak louder than words. That doesn’t mean responding with action upon hurting that person relieves our indiscretion. It boils down to a conscious decision to deeply understand the person we love and care most about as well as our own character defects and shortcomings that allowed us to cause that harm. By doing so, in reality, that is why the phrase “love means never having to say you’re sorry” begins to have a deeper meaning.
In the book, “True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, he describes within the first chapter that the essence of true love requires unconditional kindness, compassion, the capability to bring joy to the loved one, and ultimately, “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” Of our two characters, only Jenny was shown to have felt that freedom. It is apparent that Oliver, despite being bogged down by his father’s repression and control, he somehow was able to deliver that message to Jenny. His shortcomings were evident early in the story. After their argument over her seemingly out of character timely utterance, “Oliver would like you to know, that in his own special way, (quickly into the phone) he loves you very much…” he changed.
Oliver’s issues with his father proved to be a barrier to the unconditional kindness, compassion, experience of joy and freedom clearly offered to him by Jenny. He, too, felt the need to control his father just as his father controlled him. His father, surprisingly, was able to help by asking how he could help. Oliver was able to as for the money. There was obvious dishonesty in the answer but nonetheless, Oliver helped his father by asking for that money. The movie ended with Oliver still being unable to accept his father’s show of compassion by interrupted his father and said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Not the best move, Oliver. That wasn’t the message Jenny had delivered to him.
Oliver’s failure was predictable. He failed to see that he could not accept his father for who he was. Jenny told him that, “I think you’re scared. You put up a wall to keep from getting hurt, but it also keeps you from getting touched.” In that same scene she remarked, “Someday you’ll have to come up with the courage to admit that you care. I care.” Not so much courage as it was a willingness to concede and accept his father. She saw through that and although by watching the movie, it is clear she was telling him the person he could not accept or care about was his father. Not her even though that clearly caused problems between the two of them. His perpetual tendency towards self-pity carried to her death. Although it was clear he loved her, instead of being there for her only at her last minute, she consoled him as she was dying and said angrily, “That guilty look on your face. It’s sick. Stop blaming yourself, you stupid preppy. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault. That’s the only thing I’ll ask you. “ Reluctantly, as seen by observation of his body language, finally did something for her that she had to ask for, “Would you please do something for me? Would you please hold me? I mean really hold me. Next to me.” Bad move, Oliver. See, love really does mean never having to say you’re sorry.
In the story, both Jenny and Oliver were at odds with their spiritual side as evidenced by the conversation with Jenny’s father. Oliver was handicapped as a result of his obstinance and unreasoning prejudice towards his father. Jenny on the other hand, although admittedly agnostic, demonstrated a sense of reasoning not demonstrated by Oliver. She was his sole source of joy and happiness. As she was dying, that pending loss of someone to help him find an inner peace and serenity was gone. They were both “kind of negative” on both aspects on the issue of God. Had Oliver being willing to travel that route, “But God would bless this union in any church,” he would have been less concerned about his father. This is not to imply an organized religious conformation, but to simply give up his control that was preventing him helping Jenny. Jenny’s reversion to her faith was demonstrated when she informed Oliver, “Ollie? I told Phil you could have a Catholic service and you’d say OK. OK? It’ll really help him a lot, you know?” Despite her agnosticism, she still had a spiritual life. Agnostics are able to identify that a willingness to maintain control over their daily affairs can destroy others to a great degree. You could almost hear Phil, and Jenny later, look at Oliver and ask, “Who are you to say there is no God? Find serenity peace and somewhere, it doesn’t matter, just find it somewhere outside of yourself, for pity’s sake!” He was deluded in his belief that by following in his father’s footsteps and obtaining the material things in life to make Jenny happy would ensure his own inner peace.
Oliver frankly never got on track. It has been said that “A business which takes no inventory usually goes broke.” Oliver was blind to his own character defects and remained steadfastly intolerant of his father. Although it is unclear in the story why or how Oliver III, the son of a bitch, was able to do what Oliver IV could not, he did two things that showed unconditional love towards his son that rejected him. First, he went along with Oliver’s lie and gave him an excuse why he needed money, “Don’t they pay you at the firm?”, and then, “You got some girl in trouble?” Oliver could then accept it provided he thought his father was disgusted with his need for money. The last was at the end, “Why didn’t you tell me? I made some calls, and when I found out I jumped in the car. Oliver, I want to help.” Come on, Oliver, give up those resentments. Advising your father inappropriately, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was cute for the movies but clearly selfish and inconsiderate. There are steps to take in all our affairs if we are ever to make amends with those we harm and thereby bring peace to everyone around.
January 26, 2013
- “Love Story (1970) – Screen: Perfection and a ‘Love Story’: Erich Segal’s Romantic Tale Begins Run”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-04. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9E07E5DA1E30E337A2575BC1A9649D946190D6CF
- LOVE STORY; Roger Ebert; Chicago Sun Times. January 1, 1970.
- The Glass Teat. Harlan Ellison; L.A. Free Press (1964–1978); Ace Publishing (May 1st 1983)