Prepare the tissues: Monday marks the 14th anniversary of Nicholas Sparks’ romantic novel, The Notebook, hitting screens as an instant classic.
This story of lovers rekindling their passionate relationship has been a staple on romantic movie lists since the film’s premiere on June 25, 2004—and a personal favorite of mine since my parents finally deemed it age appropriate. (I was a mature 8-year-old and am still upset I didn’t see it in theaters, Linda.)
While starring actors (and previously IRL couple) Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling snagged the 2005 MTV Movie Awards Best Kiss trophy, they are hardly the most romantic couple of The Notebook. Gena Rowlands and the late James Garner portray the same couple sixty years in the future and tell a less sparkly, but more honest tale of what true love can and should look like.
Gena Rowlands and the late James Garner portray the same couple sixty years in the future and tell a less sparkly, but more honest tale of what true love can and should look like.
The film opens with Duke (Garner) preparing for a date with the love of his life, Allie (Rowlands)—a woman who barely recognizes him. Allie lives in assisted living as a result of her dementia and Duke visits her each day to retell her the story of their relationship. Having forgotten most of her life, Allie listens eagerly to her own love story (acted out by McAdams and Gosling) hanging on every word.
The beauty of their story is found predominantly in Duke’s refusal to give up on his wife. Despite some heart health concerns, Duke is a perfectly lucid and capable older man. His family encourages him to leave assisted living to return to his home and doctors repeatedly tell him there is no hope that his wife will regain any part of her memory. And, yet, he lives with her, reading the same story each day, as if to a stranger, for the “first” time.
Towards the film’s end, Allie has a moment of lucidity saying, “I remember now. It was us. It was us.” But a few days later, after another night together, the two are found dead.
Stories chronicling individuals’ dedication to caring for loved ones as they lose their memory are few and far between—Still Alice being one of the only ones in recent memory. The Notebook‘s poignant end isn’t too far from the reality of many elderly couples. Within the medical community, widowhood syndrome is recognized as an important example of the effect social relationships can have on health. It is not uncommon for married couples to die within months or even days of each other, just like Allie and Duke.
This ending highlights a reality of romance that is not often featured on film. Very few of us will join our significant others in kissing on top of the Hollywood sign or chasing each other through an airport. However, we will all experience the universal realities of loss. Allie and Duke are a shining example of what it means to follow someone to the ends of the earth.
Lasting romance can be tough to portray effectively. That’s why studios that find rare, genuine chemistry between actors often end up pairing them as love interests for many different stories. (See Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence for details.)
Sadly, this is the only time Rowlands and Garner played opposite before Garner’s death in 2014. When asked about The Notebook, Garner sang Rowlands’ praises, saying, “I’d put her in the top five actresses in this business… She never gave a bad performance in her life. And she won’t.”