Through the Eyes of a Romantic
Tristan & Isolde (the movie) is a retelling of the ancient Celtic tale about two star-crossed lovers. Before viewing the movie, I wasn’t aware of this tale. The promo tag line, however, tipped me off to the outcome. Before there was Romeo and Juliet there was: Tristan & Isolde. Okay. So I knew going in that I wouldn’t be getting my preferred happily-ever-after. If the story is compelling, if I fall in love with the characters and believe that they are meant to be, I can handle a bitter-sweet ending.
Take Cold Mountain for instance. I know fellow romantics who hated this film because of the ending. Although, I wanted an HEA with all my heart, when I didn’t get it, I wasn’t angry or let down, just sad for Inman and Ada. I believed in their love. I rooted for them, ached for them. I walked away from the theater mourning the love lost, but filled with a sense of hope. Though not a traditional romance, Cold Mountain is a true love story.
Back to Tristan & Isolde. It started off so well. The director and writer took their time setting up the story, which I liked. It helped me to emotionally connect with the hero, Tristan. To understand his motivation, his beliefs. I was hooked. Tristan (Englishman and adopted son of Lord Marke) was loyal and intelligent. A brave warrior. A scene where he leads a rescue of village women, cemented his role as our ‘hero’.
Then he meets and falls in love with an Irish princess, Isolde. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how their relationship develops. If not, you can read the synopsis here. Through circumstances, Isolde ends up married to Lord Marke (played by Rufus Sewell). This is where the movie fell apart for me.
Tristan, though deeply in love with Isolde, convinces her that she must follow through with this marriage. “We will bear this,” he tells her, “because we must.” His actions, his words, rang true to the character they had set up. This man loved and respected Lord Marke. He put his Lord and their people above his personal desires. A typical heroic deed in the eyes of we romantics. Okay. So, still believable. I watched as a broken hearted Isolde resigned herself to marriage with a man she did not love. Believable. Watched as Lord Marke wooed her with patience and kindness. Believable. Watched as Isolde began to soften toward Lord Marke. Because Tristan had been away for some time and because of how tenderly Marke treated her--also believable.
Tristan witnesses her warming to Lord Marke, and instead of sucking it up and ‘bearing it’, he throws a jealous snit, taunting Isolde with snide comments, forcing her to admit her heart still belongs to him… and the traitorous affair begins. For the rest of the movie, every time the camera was on Tristan, I swear there were tears in his eyes. His actions were no longer selfless, but selfish. Where was the young hero of the first half of the movie? My disappointment wasn’t with the ‘affair’, but with Tristan.
My husband turned to me at one point and said, “I bet I know why you’re not enjoying this movie at this point. You think she should be with Rufus Sewell.”
Ding, ding, ding! “On the nose. You win!” Lord Marke was kind, charming, handsome, a brave warrior and strong leader. Why would any woman prefer sniveling Tristan to charismatic Marke? Why would she prefer a weak boy to a strong man? I didn’t buy it.
In the end, Tristan redeemed himself, but I didn’t care by that point. And by the by, in the end, Lord Marke still came off more hero-like in his actions than Tristan. I’m not saying the filmmaker should have made Lord Marke less appealing. That could have worked to provide great conflict. A similar ploy worked well with the Lancelot, Guinevere, and King Arthur triangle. But that’s just it. Tristan wasn’t conflicted enough. He wasn’t man enough. Hero enough. When he met his end, I didn’t think, “Poor Isolde.” I thought, “If you’re lucky Lord Marke will take you back.”
Long post long, I was disappointed in Tristan & Isolde. I knew I wasn’t going to get my HEA, but I didn’t even get a believable love story. I did not root or ache for the star-crossed lovers. I rooted and ached for Lord Marke. On a good note, the evening was not a total waste. I learned a great deal about storytelling, characterization, and creating a believable tale of love. Plus, I got to ogle Rufus Sewell. *g*
Anyone else see this movie? Thoughts? Comments on what makes or breaks a hero or heroine? Let’s talk.