The A-Z of Geek Cinema: O is for Once
The beauty of Once is not necessarily in the music. The music is there. It is beautiful. What became The Swell Season perform song after song (sometimes MarkÃ©ta IrglovÃ¡ and Glen Hansard together, sometimes just Hansard) of heartbreaking and bittersweet sadness and love, but that’s not all the film has in its corner. It also has some incredible performances, and a painfully realistic story at its center.
In the story of these two lonely somewhat broken people almost falling in love, it struck me how formulaic and boring most romantic comedies and dramas are. This was more real, more to how I feel a similar situation would play out in the real world. People don’t always make the choices that will benefit them in the short term. The guy had that capability, and the girl did not, as she had responsibilities and other concerns. And I find myself agreeing more often than not with the latter choice. The fairytale ending is nice in theory and all, but in reality, the white knight doesn’t always win out. The love of your life might be the stranger you “meet cute” on the subway, or busking on the street in Ireland, or it might be the father of your child who you’ve been waiting for ages for. It might be the girl with the sad eyes you’ve been falling slowly (heh) for, or maybe you haven’t actually met her yet.
The problem with most films of this nature is they make the choice too obvious. You know Julia Roberts is going to choose Hugh Grant, because Rufus Sewell has a creepy eye and acts like a douchebag. You know John Cusack will win out because he’s John Cusack. And don’t even bring up the hollow facade of human sorrow that is in the current form of Adam Sandler… In any event, the choice is black and white, and arbitrary. You know going in who is going to get the girl, the guy, whatever, because there are tropes, there is a formula, and that is how things are. Too few films explode this archetype, more than likely because it spells box office poison for the most part. Predictability has its place, and no one wants reality in their fairytales.
And that is what Once is, a fairytale. It is the tale of the knight errant who’s fallen from grace, met the lady who slowly steals his heart and reinvigorates his soul, but doesn’t end up winning her heart. She ultimately goes her way, he goes his. And that is that. They’ve learned more about themselves, they’ve changed and grown, and they move on. Because that is what life is like. Life is bittersweet, it is unfinished, it is ever moving. Time’s arrow inexorably goes forward. And thus the title, Once. It says everything: they knew each other once. But now they move on.
The Oscar winning song from the film, “Falling Slowly”, encapsulates the story. Without ever seeing a frame of the film, you could know what was coming just from the lyrics, and from the aching vocal performance by Hansard, with IrglovÃ¡’s harmonies soaring above. The final line of the song, “I paid the cost too late, now you’re gone”, tells it all.