Dear Roger Ebert,
Everyone suffers through the bittersweet pain of first love lost. Subsequent romances are never the same; are never remembered with quite the same quality of melancholic regret. Your first love is the only one to whom you can say things like “I will love you forever,” and not be lying just to get in her pants.
The great tragedy of first love is that it is inevitably lost love. The youth that gives the body its vitality has a wonderfully sad side effect: emotional exuberance. Yet, that youth is fleeting. As you mature you become a different person, and that first love gradually becomes someone who’s living with a leper on the other side of the world. It’s part of growing up, and we’re as powerless to stop it as we are to stop the ongoing decay of the bitter cynic who has forgotten what it is like to feel that first love — whose heart has shriveled into a ball of cold detritus, rendered malodorous by decay and disappointment.
Which brings me to you.
You betray your own sense of emotional decrepitude by giving a mere two stars to the wonderful new film “Dear John.” Your tin-eared — or perhaps I should more appropriately say tin-hearted — review clearly illuminates a man in whose chest beats nothing at all. Nothing human, anyway.
“Dear John” is a film based on the emotional, bittersweet bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks. It concerns the touching first love of two young people, the young soldier John Tyree, and the young college student Savannah Lynn Curtis. The two fall in love with a swiftness that is the exclusive and enviable province of the young. However, the young two are torn apart by the war on terror, or the war in Iraq, or something — anyway, young soldier John has to re-enlist in the Army after 9/11 so that he can go on secret missions that prevent him and young Savannah from being together. Their relationship is lived almost entirely through bittersweet letters exchanged over a period of many bittersweet years.
During these emotional, bittersweet years, the two young lovers begin to drift apart. As with all first loves, this love is lost. Savannah marries a very wonderful man who has cancer, and John sells his (possibly autistic) father’s coin collection to pay for that man’s cancer operation. John is enough of an adult to understand that his first love is lost to him, because she is now in love with someone else. The man with cancer. John knows that true love is when you sacrifice your own happiness for someone else’s, especially when that someone else is in love with a guy who has cancer.
I admit that, when I first read Sparks’ novel, I had the giddily uneasy feeling that he’d opened up my own heart, and made a bestseller of its contents. So much like my own first love was his story! Only the specifics were different:
I met my own first love at a college party. Her name was Jordyn and we fell in love with precipitous velocity, even though we were each dating other people at the time. (It was a costume party, and we thought we were speaking to our partners when, in fact, we’d been speaking to each other!) Then, we graduated, and she took a low-level job at a trend-setting fashion magazine in New York City, working for a famously hard-nosed editor, while I joined the Peace Corps. The letters we exchanged were like kindling thrown on the fanning flames of our young, burning love. Occasionally, when I got leave from the Philippines, or Venezuela, or wherever I was stationed, I would visit her in New York.
Gradually I came to realize that we were drifting apart. Her friends were “sophisticated,” and knew all about high fashion. My friends were either selfless men and women dedicated to helping those less fortunate, or lepers. Finally, she fell in love with a sensitive writer of poetry and they moved into a loft in Greenwich Village (I think he reminded her a little of me). I fell in love with a leper with beautiful eyes, and we moved into a hovel in Thailand or some place like that. When Jordyn found out I was living in a hovel with a leper, she was so moved to help me, her first love, that she held a benefit fashion show to raise money for my new girlfriend’s leper operation. She understood that first love is lost love, and the only thing you can do when that love is lost is help your ex-boyfriend’s current, leper, girlfriend.
What is unmistakably remarkable is that the emotions that Sparks captures in his novel are universal. And that’s important, because the fact that I recognized my own emotions in the story is proof that I actually have emotions. The same obviously cannot be said of you, Roger.
But back to the movie: They changed the story a little bit, because at the end of that [spoiler alert, but it’s so wonderful you won’t care that you already know the ending — would you say, “Oh, I’m not going to watch that production of “Romeo and Juliet” because I already know that they’re both going to die at the end? No, you wouldn’t. It’s the same with this, unless you’re heartless] the guy with cancer dies and it’s kind of implied that maybe first love can be recaptured, but I’ll leave that for the viewer to decide for himself.
Right now my concern is with you.
Only a cold, cruel jerk could not be moved to tears by this wonderful story. You are a cold, cruel jerk, Roger Ebert. How else do you explain this sentence, taken from your review of the film version:
“”Dear John” exists only to coddle the sentiments of undemanding dreamers, and plunge us into a world where the only evil is the interruption of the good.”
Excuse me, Roger Ebert, while I take a break from writing this so that I can weep a little for your blackened heart. In attempting to make a profound statement about “Dear John,” all you’ve done is exposed the fact that your heartlessness has so twisted your mind that it is causing you to compose sentences that are literally the most ridiculous sentences ever composed.
“Undemanding dreamers”? Roger Ebert, you gave four stars to “Avatar”! I suppose that film is for more demanding dreamers, huh? Well, I have news for you — “Avatar” isn’t real, either. Just like “Dear John,” it’s a metaphor. But instead of cold technological 3-D CGI, its primary special effect is emotion. Real emotion.
Your major criticism of “Dear John” is that you don’t believe it’s authentic enough. You claim that the film is “the heartbreaking story of two lovely young people who fail to find happiness together because they’re trapped in an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel.” This is truly a sentence that could only be written by a cynical man who is incapable of remembering the first time he kissed his first love outside in the rain. The point of Sparks’ novel is that your first love will eventually move in with a poet in Greenwich Village. Or, sorry, the point is that eventually you outgrow your first love. It is inevitable.
This inevitability is expressed in the very title itself. As you question in your tin-hearted review,
“[C]onsidering that the term “Dear John letter” has been in constant use since World War II, and that the hero of this movie is inevitably destined to receive such a letter, is it a little precious of Sparks to name him “John”?”
Roger, we are all Johns. That is the point of Sparks’ story. Pointing this out is not “precious,” but it is another word that begins with the letters “pr,” and also has an “o.” The word to which I am referring is “profound.”
I feel sorry for you, Roger Ebert. But I also feel good about myself. Because I can still feel something.
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