Movie Review: ‘The Notebook’, “A nagy füzet” (Love during wartime, baby…)

The Notebook (2013) PosterMost war movies recount battles like so many trips to the dentist, or play-offs to the World Series of War, but some fortunate few break down the horror into the individual traumas that constitute the one mass trauma that sometimes defines our existences, and if left unattended, our world. ‘The Notebook’ doesn’t do that—recount the battles, that is. ‘The Notebook’ is a war movie without battles, except the internal ones that end up making us into something different from what we were before it started.

The worst thing about ‘The Notebook’ is the title, it so easily confused with the Ryan (‘Abs’) Gosling and Rachel (‘Dimples’) McAdams vehicle of a decade or so ago that attempted to expand the favorite American ‘Love is All/All is Love’ theme into maybe the one new direction it’d never gone—senility. That’s fine, of course, but this is not that. This is war, and you could be excused for concluding that maybe the overriding theme here is ‘War is All/All is War’—close, but no cigarette.

Or if you were to conclude that ‘Sex is All/All is Sex’ then you might be even closer, but you’d still miss the point of the movie. Now, I’m not hung up on themes, but I am annoyed at reviewers who insist that this must be all symbolism and metaphor. Have you ever gone out of the house? Have you seen the world of hate and cruelty that passes for post-religion ‘secular humanism’? Have you ever seen someone killed right before your eyes for the crime of—nothing? Welcome to the 21st century.

Spoiler alert: The deal is that two male Hungarian twins are sent to live with Grandma during WWII, who turns out to not only have never met the strapping youngsters, but who is also a real b*tch, known locally as the w*tch. Life’s tough in the WWII Hungarian countryside, and dignity is at a premium, especially when Granny refers to you as the ‘Bastards’, not too surprising considering she went decades with no word from your mother/her daughter (and will meet another before the war—and movie—is over).

There is a basic love to be found in people, though, if you look hard enough, even though it may be hidden under layers of basic sex and humiliation, but let’s not chastise ourselves too badly for the basic reproductive fact of existence, and any reasonable facsimiles, and the ridiculous things we do to get there, but rather rejoice in the moments of transcendence. Eventually the boys steel themselves to hardship, even bonding with their captor granny w*itch, and manage some coming of age lessons in the process, like frolicking in the tub with a rocking knockout maid. Hey, poverty has its perks! You get to clean up in hot steamy tubs with cute steamy girls!

But that’s not the point. The point is almost Buddhist—life is what it is and it’s up to us to make it better one act of kindness at the time. There you go. You wanted a theme. I recommend.  Directed by Janos Szasz.  Available on Netflix and elsewhere.