And my title is a double entendre.
Some years ago I watched Love Actually with my family and I thought it was really scary. My dad and my sister found this somewhat amusing, and I can see why. It’s not your typical horror film. In my defence there is really just one of the storylines that I find so horribly terrifying.
It’s the one about Alan Rickman’s present for the dark haired chick in his office.
If you haven’t seen the film, or just find it extremely forgettable (or if you don’t know which of these two categories you’re in because you’ve forgotten) then I’ll quickly recap this one storyline for you: Alan Rickman, Hans or Snape (whichever you prefer) is married. Some dark haired femme fatale in the office flirts with him. Alan Rickman decides to buy her a pretty Christmas present. I forget what he buys (some kind of jewellery), so I’ll just call it Source of Horror and Despair for the sake of brevity.
Alan Rickman buys the Source of Horror and Despair from Mr Bean in a nerve-wrenching scene where his wife is somewhere else in the shopping mall and Mr Bean (being Mr Bean) takes ages wrapping up the damn gift. Luckily the gift is wrapped up and hidden away just before the wife arrives. Later on, in a panic-inducing scene, Alan Rickman’s wife searches his coat pocket for some reason and finds the present. She opens it (it’s resealable) and sees the Source of Horror and Despair. It makes her really happy, because it’s a very nice gift and she thinks it’s for her. Of course she does, she’s his wife!
On Christmas Eve she gets a scarf.
When she’s alone with him a bit later on she confronts him about it. Alan Rickman’s immediate response is “I’ve been such a fool”.
The wife is visibly hurt but there is no immediate disaster. They’ll talk about it. End of storyline.
I know, I know. You’re probably wondering what’s wrong with me. I bet you’re thinking something like: “it’s not the end of the world, is it, John? It’s just a guy making some bad choices. Well, he’s having an affair, and that’s a pretty serious deal, even though it’s never shown as an explicitly sexual affair in the film. Yes, it’s the emotional part of it that’s worst, anyway, but… The point is, this might be bad, even awful, but it’s not something to get so incredibly horrified by, is it, John? … John? Hello? John? John, where are you? John?!”
Oh hi, sorry, I’m back. I was just shaking and crying for a bit. I’ll explain why now.
You see, I have one of those fancy things called a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. My irrational fear is of embarrassment, or awkward situations. So when Alan Rickman puts himself in a really socially awkward situation like this, I find it terrifying because it speaks directly to my deepest fear. In general, this has a heavy impact on how I experience certain films. I have at one point my life actually managed to endure the torment of both Meet the Parents and its even scarier sequel, Meet the Fockers.
This fear, called social phobia, has shaped a huge part of my life. The thing about fear of embarrassment is that it’s by extension a fear of social situations in general, because all social interactions are potentially embarrassing. Then it all boils down to a general fear of people, because social interactions are just that: me, plus other people.
Several years of my life have been dominated by this fear, and irrational patterns of thought that come with it. Thoughts about how the tiny, slightly embarrassing mistake I just made will cause everyone to hate me, while in reality hardly anyone noticed, and those who did just don’t care. My social phobia was always at its complete worse when I was talking to someone I had a crush on. This is the other side of my title: I was actually scared of love.
I’m not really into horror films. Why would I be? Awkward comedies are way scarier to me. Some of them are so awkward I can’t stand watching them. Some are manageable, and help me work on my fears at a subconscious level. Love Actually is great for this. It’s not really an awkward comedy, so the awkwardness takes up a very small part of the film. The rest of the time I’m just enjoying a romantic comedy.
I know they’re generally not the best of films, but romantic comedies have a special place in my heart. Maybe because they’re all about overcoming what was my worst fear during my teenage years, namely getting contact with the person I’m into.
So I actually love Love Actually (not anymore, see below), for the same reason people like horror: it scares me, and through scaring me it allows me to work at my fears and ultimately overcome them in a safe environment. While horror works at the fear of death or insanity, my idea of a scary film works at my social phobia. I guess I should add that I haven’t felt any of my social phobia in months, and I’ve been in a stable relationship for even longer. I have no reason to feel anxious around my girlfriend, ever. So all of this is something I believe I’ve overcome. Still, it’ll probably always be a part of me, though hopefully only a part of my past. And I’ll always like Love Actually because of it.
EDIT: I highly recommend the following review: I Rewatched Love Actually and Am Here to Ruin It for All of You. It actually ruined the film for me, but it did so brilliantly, and makes some important points about invicible sexism in films.