In the film Silver Linings Playbook, Pat Peoples endeavors to read Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms in order to prove to his estranged wife that he is trying to “better” himself. Personally, as much as I enjoy Hemingway, I don’t think I would look to him with my marital problems. However, the actor Bradley Cooper puts so much passion into Pat’s character as he reads, one can’t help but hope something good might come of it. But as Pat comes to the end of the novel, his eyes get big, his face clouds over with anger, he slams the book shut and yells one of the better uses of the WTF phrase that I’ve heard in a movie. He then procedes to throw the book through a closed window where it lands in the middle of the dark street in a pile of shattered glass. After the police leave, he spends the evening ranting and raving and pacing in his parents’ bedroom, telling them that the world needs more happy endings.
After re-reading A Farewell to Arms, I couldn’t help but be sympathetic to Pat’s meltdown even though I enjoyed the novel and, as always, Hemingway’s writing leaves me speechless sometimes. I have a long-running idea that I throw around to my wife and kids about fictional romances. I find stories more romantic when the couple doesn’t end up together, and if one or both of them die, it makes for an even better romantic story. I always stress that this theory only works in fiction. As I finished reading this novel, I couldn’t help but think that I may have stumbled upon a story where my theory gives out.
Frederick Henry, an American in the Italian army during during World War I, begins a relationship with Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. These characters are strong enough in their own right to make me want to know what happens to them; however, they seem very much removed from the world around them. I thought “Yes, that’s what it’s like for them!” when Catherine made this remark:
“Because there’s only us two and in the world there’s all the rest of them. If anything comes between us we’re gone and then they have us.”
Hemingway’s other comparable novels For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises include romances, but they are somehow a part of the world around them. It’s not “just the two of us”. In spite of the great descriptions of the Swiss village to which they run away, descriptions that made me want to run out and eat Swiss food and drink German beer, I couldn’t help but think this isn’t the way it is, it’s not going to last. And of course it doesn’t. Early on, Catherine discloses to Frederick that she has had a premonition that she will die in the rain. It rains during the entire book!