Movie Critique: The Notebook

Here, I critique one of my favorite movies, The Notebook. The film The Notebook was directed by Nick Cassavetes in 2004. It is based on a novel with the same title by Nicholas Sparks. The Notebook is a romantic drama film. It is about the love story of a couple who come from polarized backgrounds. Movies can entertain as well as inspire the audience through creative storytelling, detailed mise en scene, and exceptional editing.

Actors are critical to bringing characters to life by interpreting the intentions of the writer and director. The main actors in The Notebook are Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as the young Mr. and Mrs. Calhoun. James Garner and Gena Rowlands play the elderly Mr. and Mrs. Calhoun. The elderly Noah Calhoun narrates the story present day.

The plot is in chronological order with breaks to the present day to show the reaction of the elderly Allie Calhoun. The couple’s consummate love story is being read to the protagonist by her husband. Mr. Calhoun has an omniscient point of view of the story but does not reveal it.  The notebook that he reads the story from was actually written by Mrs. Calhoun after her dementia diagnosis so she would not forget their love story.

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The story takes place in the 1940s in South Carolina. The conflict that Allie Calhoun has in the story is deciding between true love or choosing to do what is expected of her. Allie became engaged to Lon, a successful lawyer.

The story climaxes after she reunites with Noah and spends a couple of passionate days with him in the house that he promised he would restore for her years prior. She is torn between true love and being in a relationship with someone that is in the same social class as her.

Realism acting is present in this film. This type of acting inspires the audience to learn about a passionate type of love. Realism acting can also be considered as naturalistic. This type of acting does not draw attention to itself. Instead, it gives the impression of genuine human action and reaction. What is considered realistic and natural, however, can change over the years and in particular situations.

Ryan Gosling is a wild card actor. He does not simply fit into one category of acting. He transforms into every character he plays. Rachel McAdams is a character actor. She typically plays in romantic drama films. She also starred in The Vow, a similar movie where she loses her memory after a car accident.

James Garner and Gena Rowland convey the story’s meaning well by the way they interpret their characters. Gena Rowland is in a nursing home due to her dementia and is unaware that her husband is telling her the story of their love written by her from her notebook. Gena Rowland expresses confusion, doubt, and excitement at the same time as she hears the story. She displays symptoms of a dementia patient. A viewer who knows someone with dementia can understand Gena Rowland’s character well.

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The story contains many symbols. Noah promises to restore an old home that the couple saw in Seabrook while on summer break. The director could have meant for that to equate to the restoration of their relationship. Symbolism of a nursing home is restoration as well as caregiving. An allegory is present where James Garner’s character reads the notebook of the story of their love. His reading stabilizes his wife’s dementia.

The film contains irony. As Allie’s mother explains her stance on the decision Allie has to make, she confesses that she too was in the same situation where she had to choose between love or a stable life. She drives her daughter over to where her former lover from a summer romance works as a blue-collar construction worker. That provides the audience with something they may be able to relate to.

The audience can relate to the characters and the storyline because there are natural and realistic circumstances that many people experience that occur in the movie. Summer love is a natural occurrence.

The film addresses the universal truth that we all have difficult decisions to make in life. Nothing is guaranteed to anyone and anything that is worth having is sure enough worth fighting for. At the end of the film, the couple die within minutes of each other while holding hands. This symbolizes that they are on the same frequency and “love each other to death.” The film’s timeline stretches from present day to 20-30 years in the past and back to the present.

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The director seems to have conveyed the message he sought out to tell. The message he may have meant to tell could be that love conquers all. The manner in which the actors are placed and move around in the settings contribute to the audience’s understanding of the plot and characters.

In the nursing home, we understand that Gena Rowlands’ character is ill. We see the passionate love her husband has for her because he does not leave her side. She relapses a few times during the film and even yells at him because she forgets who he is but he handles the situation gracefully. The acting inspires the audience to deal patiently with difficult situations. The acting also highlights that true love is selfless.

The cinematographer in The Notebook is Robert Fraisse. The cinematographer’s job is to translate the director’s vision for the film, to capture what the director wants to see and make it happen. A cinematographer is also known as a director of photography. In the final scene of the movie, the couple is getting ready for bed.

In the mise en scene, we see a twin sized nursing home bed, a chair that James Garner’s character uses, and a small bedside table with a beverage container and a cup. The couple are each in bathrobes. The sheets are white. White symbolizes purity, completeness, heaven and faith. Their love for each other is pure and complete. 

The couple’s last words are “I love you,” “Good night,” and “I’ll be seeing you.” We can infer that the screenwriter included those lines as they are words of goodbye. They are in their last moments of life and do not take it for granted. Gena Rowland’s character even asks her husband, “Do you think our love could take us away together?” He replied that he believes their love can take them anywhere they want.

We can presume here that the story is preparing to close. They then kiss. Kissing is a seal, a sign of commitment and affection. They hold hands as they pass away together. James Garner’s character holds their hands across his heart. The director could have instructed them to do so to represent unfailing love.

There are several medium shots, medium close-up and close up shots in this scene. This represents the intimacy of what is being shown. The infusion of color into a scene immediately alters it, letting us know the intent of the director and cinematographer with a visual cue. A bluish tint is used to show that the room is dimly lit, low-key lighting.

The camera is subjective. The audience sees and views as the characters do. The subjective camera, by contrast, uses the camera as an extension of the characters. We often see what they see, experience what they are experiencing.

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Alain Heim is the editor of The Notebook. He used continuity editing when it came to the main story but since the husband, in his old age, is retelling the story to his wife who is sick with dementia, the audience partly sees them in the present as well. The shot and scenes are arranged cohesively into acts. The transitions used in the final scene are cut and wipe. We can imply the couple died together because of the dialogue and the peaceful look their visages at the end of the scene.

The Notebook has two of the three categories of sound in a film. It has dialogue and music. The dialogue advances the plot well because it is narrated by James Garner as the elder Mr. Calhoun. This has a great effect on the movie because the omniscient voice is of the film’s character.

We hear the dialogue between the families, the couples, and staff in the nursing home. The music is prominent during key moments in the film. The score is angelic, peaceful, and consistent in the final scene. The music complements the scene. The music composer is Aaron Zigman.

The Notebook falls into the genre of romantic drama films. We can understand that it falls into this category because the plot shows how the young couple triumph through the obstacles that life puts in the way of their love. It fits this category also because most romantic films share a fight for love. The film does not deviate from the genre it is most closely related to.

The director of The Notebook, Nick Cassavetes is the son of the late director John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands, who plays the elderly Mrs. Calhoun in The Notebook.  Nick Cassavetes is also an actor and screenwriter. Having an extensive background in film aided in his reputation as an exemplary director.

Directors tend to develop their own styles. Favorite ways of arranging actors and props on the set, favorite types of camera angles and lighting schemes, favorite patterns of editing long and/or short takes into scenes and favorite habits of using sound and image to reinforce or clash with each other.

Nick Cassavetes also includes his family in his films. His wife, Heather Wahlquist, starred in his film, Yellow. Cassavetes can be considered as an auteur because he has technical competence, a distinguishable personality, and an interior meaning to most of his work. His work expresses a consistent worldly outlook.

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The Notebook can be analyzed and interpreted in various ways.  The culturalist approach treats the film as symptomatic of the culture in which it was created. In the 1940s, the era portrayed in the film, it was frowned upon for a rich woman to marry outside of her class. The film challenges that notion because the couple featured are indeed from different classes.

The realist approach is an analysis that is especially concerned with the ways a film is representing some sort of reality. The actors bring the characters to life by their realistic form of acting. Their love story is believable and the public can relate. 

The auteurist approach, which is an analysis that looks at a film as part of its director’s overall body of work instead of as a single entity, helps interpret the overall message being delivered. If other films that were directed by Cassavetes were examined, we would see that his style includes being hands-on in his projects and involving his family in his films. His late father, John Cassavetes has influenced his work because he was a renowned director in his time. His work included Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Opening Night (1977).

Have you seen The Notebook? If so, what do you like most about it? What is your favorite movie?

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