I watched the 2008 film adaptation of the book The Thirty-Nine Steps last week. I’ve never read the book, or seen the classic Hitchcock film, but this version was quite enjoyable, being well-paced and fairly well-acted. From what I have read, however, it bore little resemblance to the novel.
But one thing that irritated me was the film’s use of a rather tired trope. The film’s hero and heroine meet while the hero is being chased by German spies. As they are trying to flee their pursuers by car, they are trading petty insults back and forth, even as the spies are closing in on them.
Ultimately, of course, they end up falling in love.
This sort of thing seems to be very common in film nowadays. Personally, I’m tired of it, and it wasn’t all that good to begin with. I’m all for injecting wit into even serious films; but the fact is that most people will not be coming up with clever insults while being pursued by armed enemy forces.
Moreover; I don’t know who decided every movie couple has to start off being annoyed by and arguing with each other. From what I have heard, I was under the impression it was more regular for a couple to like one another at first, and only over the course of years of knowing one another do they start fighting. But that’s quite cynical, I admit.
One of the reasons I hold the Star Wars prequels superior to the original trilogy is that they managed to almost entirely avoid this kind of thing. Whereas Han Solo and Princess Leia fight with each other almost constantly throughout A New Hope and the first half of The Empire Strikes Back, in the prequels Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala are actually shown to be in love first, before they run into… difficulties in their relationship.
I am not arguing for the Star Wars prequel love story as some kind of model for cinema romance. It is rather shabbily written, no doubt. But as a concept, it stands out from contemporary film romances. (Admittedly, this is partly because it is willing to embrace even older tropes that have lately fallen so far out of fashion they seem more original.)
The essence of drama, the saying tells us, is conflict. Therefore, in order to create drama, the lazy writer simply creates conflict wherever he can, even if it doesn’t make sense for the characters and story.