[Part 1 here.]
[Spoilers] A typical love story with a happy ending usually goes like this:boy meets girl. They fall in love. They encounter obstacles. They overcome obstacles. They finally get together. Happily ever after. To The Moon tells a love story – but hardly a typical one. Yes boy met girl. Yes they fell in love (at least the girl did). They encountered obstacles (like the boy forgetting the girl). They finally got together (and got married). But it wasn’t happily ever after. In fact, they never really overcame the initial obstacle, and the girl died with this obstacle unresolved.
Yet, To The Moon has a happy ending. An ending so moving that many have confessed to crying when they experienced it. What gives? What about the ending makes it so moving – and so romantic – when deep down inside we know that what we’re seeing is but an illusion, and the real River had already passed away never finding her fulfillment?
Certainly the science-fiction nature of the narrative has something to do with it. I had come across similar science-fiction romantic stories where the science-fiction elements had messed with the usual romantic narrative, e.g. the Japanese films Love Letter and Be With You, the Korean film Il Mare (later re-made into The Lake House starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves), as well as the 1980 Christopher Reeve film, Somewhere in Time. [The Time Traveller’s Wife may qualify, but I haven’t seen the film or read the book].
I know I’m a little under-qualified to talk about romance, but I want to offer a counter-proposition: perhaps what makes a story romantic and moving is not necessarily the final outcome of the story, but rather how the beauty of a relationship between two individuals is revealed to the audience. It is both the substance (i.e. the nature of the relationship) as well as the form (i.e. how masterfully it is revealed to the audience). If this is true, then “happily ever after” is not what really makes for romance, but rather the realization of how beautiful a relationship is (or was) which makes for romance.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
(Ephesians 5:22-33 ESV)
My views of Christian romance, dating and marriage have been largely shaped by 4 books: I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl (both by Joshua Harris), What Did You Expect? (by Paul Tripp) and John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage (click here for free pdf). From this tradition, we understand romance as part of (or working towards) marriage, and our earthly marriage as a symbol, a reminder, and a foretaste of the final and ultimate glorious marriage we would take part in – as the bride of Christ.
Perhaps this is the reason why our hearts are moved when we see a beautiful and intimate relationship revealed through a film, a book or a videogame. At the end of To The Moon, when we see Johnny reach out and hold River’s hand as the moon comes into view, our hearts resonated with that scene, because when God created us, he designed us for romance. We were all designed for the loving and intimate relationship – with Christ as our groom.
Previously, I have suggested that “happily ever after” isn’t what makes a narrative moving and romantic. This has to be true in some sense, after all, surely all romantic couples know that eventually one day they must part – till death or divorce. But yet, that is not true in another sense – our marriage to Christ is eternal. And that is truly happily ever after.