Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Runaway Bride

This isn't about a movie, but I just can't help myself. No doubt you have heard about Jennifer Wilbanks' pre-wedding jitters, leading to a false kidnapping story to cover her flight. As I listened to Katie Couric interview the fiancé, who apparently still plans to marry Jennifer once she receives "treatment," I couldn't help but wonder how her family would have reacted if Jennifer had said, "I don't want to get married."

Notice that I didn't write, "I don't want to marry [my fiancé] John Mason," but more to the point, "I don't want to be married." What then, might her "treatment" entail? How would society respond to a young woman who simply might believe that she is better off as a single woman in love, rather than a wife?

Not to project too much, but I thought of various novels I had read, for example, The Female Quixote, in which a delusional young woman has to be reprogrammed for her own safety. An alternate, feminist reading, however, indicates that the young woman loses her individuality and identity in order to conform to society's expectations and her role within it.

In the end, Jennifer Wilbanks simply may be a troubled woman, needing a few anti-depressants to restore some balance to her life. Or she may suffer from a more problematic disorder of the soul, unsure of who she is and, correspondingly, who she wants to be. Either way, her story encourages a questioning of weddings and marriage. How much pressure does a $500,000 wedding impose on a couple? What societal values, good and ill, do we convey in highlighting one day of union? What role does marriage play in our society, and what gender roles are implicit in the convention?

Since this is a movie site, I suppose I should mention the implicit reference each time someone refers to Jennifer Wilbanks as the "Runaway Bride." Who doesn't immediately think of Julia Roberts, attired in a wedding dress with her hair flowing down her back as she escapes from impending marital doom on the back of a horse? In case you managed to miss the media onslaught announcing this film in 1999, the movie to which I am referring is called, not suprisingly, Runaway Bride.

To the film's credit, it doesn't solve Maggie's (Julia's character) problems with "finding the right man" in Richard Gere's Ike. She leaves Ike at the altar as well, though there is some romantic nonsense about her fear being sparked by breaking eye contact with her beloved. Of course, I could play with that more, something about Maggie removing herself from the male gaze and thereby finding marriage threatening one she escapes from the powerful male presence.

Yet the film intrigues me more because Maggie first finds herself before she finds happiness with Richard Gere. There is much to critique in this film from a feminist perspective, but to its credit, Maggie takes the time she needs (finally) to figure out who she is before she tries to share herself with another person.

I hope Jennifer Wilbanks has people around her who are listening to her. I mean truly listening, even if what she says frightens them or challenges their worldview. I hope she finds what she needs to feel unafraid of the future. And I hope no one suggests that she watch Runaway Bride because in the end, it only examines the easy part: falling in love and committing. It completely eschews the hard part: living within the commitment.


At 8:11 AM, Blogger Feminist Film Critic said...

Cary Tenis of Salon.com was as affected by the Runaway Bride as I was:
"You wonder what she'll tell her kids years from now, when those startled eyes have narrowed with the narrowing of life's possibilities and the kids dig up the clippings on the Internet and ask her what she was doing running off on a Greyhound bus when she was supposed to be getting married to daddy."

Check out http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2005/05/04/runaway_bride/
to read more.


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