watch

The Notebook’s Takeaways- True Romance or Truly Toxic? | Mixed Messages

Romance movies like The Notebook set some of our grandest expectations for what a relationship should be like. But if you look closer, this rom-dram sends some very mixed messages. Because of the film’s more toxic takeaways, some modern critics have written the film off entirely. But the story of these star-crossed lovers does still offer some meaningful messages.

Transcript

Romance movies like The Notebook set some of our grandest expectations for what a relationship should be like. But if you look closer, this rom-dram sends some very mixed messages. As irresistible and fated as Noah and Allie’s love feels, Noah can be manipulative and obsessive, and Allie repeatedly slaps and shoves Noah. Despite the story taking place in the American South, Black characters are never anything more than extras, and the story at times erases slavery while romanticizing the Old South. Because of these toxic takeaways, some modern critics have written the film off entirely. So, what made The Notebook the romance movie of the early 2000s, and how much of it holds up? The story of these star-crossed lovers does still offer some meaningful messages. Their love story transcends class and disability. They’re honest and vulnerable with one another, and love their partner for who they are despite what other people may think. Here’s our take on the mixed messages of The Notebook, and what’s still to love and admire about this volatile couple.

Toxic Takeaway Number 1 – Pressuring your partner is romantic.

Can “no” ever mean “maybe”? Absolutely not. But watching Allie and Noah flirt might make you think otherwise. Noah first meets Allie while she’s spending time with someone else Instead of respecting her choices, he inserts himself into their space and tries to hijack their date. And when she makes it clear that she’s not interested, he threatens to throw himself off a Ferris wheel if she doesn’t agree to go on a date with him. This dynamic continues throughout the film. Noah is hard-headed and pushy, and Allie matches his energy by resorting to violence

He obsessively writes to her after their breakup even though he never receives any sign back that she’s interested in continuing communication. And although he moves on after that year, when he sees proof that she’s moved on as well he recommits himself to “getting her back”–again, all without any signal that his over-the-top attention is at all welcome.

“He got the notion into his head that if he restored the old house that they’d been in that night, Allie would find a way to come back to him.”

This behavior fits into a larger pattern: Noah regularly ignores Allie’s cuesand always seems to think he knows what’s “best” for Allie better than Allie herself. When he asks her to lie in the street with him, she declines, but he ignores her and keeps trying

All this escalation can be entertaining to watch, but it would not be fun to live. Initially, Allie herself is turned off by Noah’s behavior. But he’s ultimately rewarded for not respecting Allie’s boundaries, and his more “problematic” behavior is framed as romantic. He even occasionally uses tactics like “negging,” a pick-up artist term for when you put a woman down to subconsciously make her seek your validation.

“I just figured you were kinda…”

“Kinda what?”

“Just… free.”

“I am free.”

“You don’t seem like it.”

By contrast, Lon, Allie’s fiance, handles her infidelity and possible rejection with grace, maturity, and a progressiveness that feels modern. He puts her feelings first and respects her need to figure out what she wants, even if it means he could lose her. Conversely, Noah behaves in an explosive and demanding way when Allie doesn’t immediately pick him. Noah insists that Allie not only wants but needs to choose him in order to live a good life

But while you can read this difference as making Noah more selfish and immature than Lon, ultimately The Notebook suggests the pressure Noah places on Allie is essential evidence of a real, passionate love. Which ends up implying that passion means fighting.

Toxic Takeaway Number 2 – Fighting makes love exciting.

Couples fight. Addressing conflict is a normal part of communication, and miscommunication is common, especially in young love and new relationships. But when fighting routinely crosses important boundaries –like when it includes vicious name-calling or gets physical– this can be a sign a couple isn’t the right match. Noah and Allie fight frequently about all things big or small, and these fights even turn violent . When they face important crossroads in their relationship – moments when they should be listening to each other’s feelings and prioritizing open communication – instead, they blow up at each other. The movie suggests their behavior is part of what proves their love is pure magnetism. The two feel so strongly for one another that they can’t help but clash. It’s such an established pattern in their relationship, Allie even expects their big explosive breakup will blow over. So this sends a toxic message that real passion means constantly breaking up and -, screaming matches, and hitting – and adult communication just isn’t required, or truly romantic.

“No, no, just wait a minute. We’re not really breaking up, are we? This is just a normal fight and we’re gonna be back together tomorrow, right?”

Toxic Takeaway Number 3 – History is romantic, and all white.

Watching The Notebook today, it’s distracting how few people of color are on screen. The handful of Black people we get to know in the film are two-dimensional caregivers, entertainers, and servants.

At the same time, The Notebook largely ignores the realities of racism and segregation in the 1940s American South – seemingly so that it can fill certain scenes with black extras but without actually delving into any racial issues. Even though Jim Crow is the law of the land in that era, Noah grows up around Black people, and his father plays music and socializes freely with his interracial community. Later in the film, we see Allie and Lon attend a fully integrated nightclub in the South with her parents and Allie’s parents even get up and start dancing alongside Black dancers without any commentary. So this comes across as oversimplified behavior for a wealthy Southern family in the 1940s, who (given that context) likely originally accumulated some of their wealth as slaveholders. When Lon comes along, Allie’s family is ecstatic because:

“He also came from old Southern money, and was fabulously wealthy.”

but while this is made to sound glamorous, “old money” in a Southern context from this era probably entails profiting off of slave labor. And although Noah doesn’t come from money and grew up around Black people, even his love story with Allie romanticizes the Old South – Noah’s grand gesture of love to Allie is fixing up an old plantation house that looks like the kind typically built by enslaved people.

So, now that we’ve covered the worst stuff, what are the good takeaways of this movie – and can we still find things to appreciate?

Meaningful Message Number 1 – Don’t let other people keep you from the person you love.

Allie’s family is extremely judgemental of Noah because of his socioeconomic status and social standing. They do all they can to keep the young couple apart. They embarrass him and allow their guests to be rude to him at a dinner they host. Allie’s mother even intentionally shares details about Allie’s future that she knows will hurt Noah in front of the other guests

When Allie and Noah are out late at night, Allie’s parents call the cops. Alli’s mom also intentionally hides hundreds of letters from Noah to keep her daughter in the dark and interfere with her daughter’s decision-making. But none of this dissuades Allie. At first, when she meets Noah, she tells him about how she relies on her parents and makes important decisions with them. When they try to come between her and Noah for such superficial reasons, though, Allie is not afraid to stand up for herself so The Notebook remains an inspirational reminder to all of us to follow our instincts and trust our own hearts.

Allie’s family is extremely judgemental of Noah because of his socioeconomic status and social standing. They do all they can to keep the young couple apart. They embarrass him and allow their guests to be rude to him at a dinner they host. Allie’s mother even intentionally shares details about Allie’s future that she knows will hurt Noah in front of the other guests

When Allie and Noah are out late at night, Allie’s parents call the cops. Alli’s mom also intentionally hides hundreds of letters from Noah to keep her daughter in the dark and interfere with her daughter’s decision-making. But none of this dissuades Allie. At first, when she meets Noah, she tells him about how she relies on her parents and makes important decisions with them. When they try to come between her and Noah for such superficial reasons, though, Allie is not afraid to stand up for herself so The Notebook remains an inspirational reminder to all of us to follow our instincts and trust our own hearts.

“You are not to see him anymore and that’s final.”

“No it’s not final.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it’s not final, you’re not gonna tell me who I’m gonna love.”

Meaningful Message Number 2 – Love isn’t perfect.

Even the best relationships are hard work and pursuing true love actually feels really scary. Allie and Noah both take emotional risks to be open with each other. And it doesn’t always go smoothly for them. When they almost have sex for the first time, it feels realistic that Allie gets nervous and starts overthinking. The scene ultimately isn’t that sexy or perfect, but what makes it so sweet is the way that Noah accepts the imperfection of the moment and comforts Allie about what matters. When they’re older, Allie shows up on his doorstep as an engaged woman, and Noah is so stunned, she starts to second-guess her decision. But again, we see Noah leaning into their imperfect reunion. He invites her in. . Their chemistry doesn’t reignite perfectly after so many years apart (which again feels realistic), but they push through the awkwardness together

All this establishes an ideal for us that’s not based on love always being magical and effortless, but on a partner understanding and having patience with your imperfections. Their love story is so compelling because of how willingly they accept the entirety of one another. It’s also why theirs is a lasting love.

“it’s going to be really hard. And we’re gonna have to work at this every day”

Meaningful Message Number 3 – In sickness and in health.

Noah’s willingness to patiently put in whatever work is needed is best illustrated by the frame story of The Notebook, where we see him retelling the story of their love to Allie in an elderly care center to help her remember, despite her dementia. This plot underlines that their love story isn’t just the passion; it’s also the steady, unglamorous dedication and care. Noah made a vow to be with Allie in sickness and in health, until death do they part, and he honors that vow even though she cannot recognize him anymore – a point when many others would consider it reasonable to give up. This effort also comes at a high emotional cost. But his choice is not contingent on what he gets back from Allie – it’s a choice to express his love in every way he can for as long as they’re both breathing.

“Mama doesn’t know us. She doesn’t recognize you. She’ll never understand. We miss you.”

The Notebook is such a fairytale romance because of the way the two have grown old by each other’s sides, and taken on all the challenges of old age together. In the final scene, they die together in each other’s arms, representing the fantasy of a love where two people literally can’t live without the other.

Meaningful Message Number 4 – Real love is out there for all of us.

In The Notebook, Noah knows that life isn’t about our accomplishments; it’s about the relationships we fill it with. When Allie’s mom tries to discourage her from being with Noah because of his social and economic class, Allie knows the same thing: a life well-lived is a life full of love. She doesn’t want to be like her parents, who have every material thing they could want but don’t have love. Allie knows her love with Noah is special, but it’s also simple: it’s laughter and play and joy. They have very bubbly chemistry. They push each other toward spontaneity and don’t take themselves too seriously. Even though they are toxic at times, they make each other feel alive in a way that other people can’t seem to.

“I have loved another with all my heart and soul. And for me that has always been enough.”

Outro

So despite its many red flags, there are timeless elements to this joyful love story between two imperfect people–from their initial honeymoon phase until old age, a period of life that’s often left offscreen in popular romance films. The most meaningful takeaway from The Notebook never goes out of style: we’re all capable of finding a love that’s as special and total as Noah’s and Allie’s–and when we do, we have to treasure it above all else, and never let it go.

“It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful story. Yes, it is.”