Unhealthy Love Affairs in Movie History. By Marie Miguel.
At the end of a tiring day, there’s nothing better than cuddling up on the sofa and watching our favorite shows or movies.
Because it’s so embedded in our lives, media and pop culture can and does shape the way we make sense of the world we’re living in. It affects our views on relationships, love, and intimacy in helpful and harmful ways.
Unfortunately, the media tends to romanticize the actions and behaviors that occur toxic relationships. Audiences can experience the consequences of such portrayals; normalizing unhealthy behaviors can lead real people to accept them in real life.
Toxic, obsessive, or otherwise unhealthy relationships are so normalized that they’re often seen as desirable, particularly for young viewers. These behaviors may also be perpetuated more often when the media paints them as a normal part of love.
As a result, it may be time to start questioning the couples that we have glorified and accidentally romanticized, even those we hold near and dear to our hearts.
Here are 3 of the most unhealthy love affairs in movie history as well as a breakdown of what sort of behaviors they attempt to normalize:
Bella and Edward – Twilight
The Twilight Saga, written by author Stephenie Meyer, was one of the best-selling book series of the 2000’s, and the hit film franchise that followed took the world by storm. While the movie fulfilled the fantasies of readers of all ages, it also arguably normalized abuse and obsessive behavior.
The story of the series revolves around the love between a 100+ year old vampire and a 17-year-old high school student. Though Bella and Edward’s relationship is painted as classically romantic, both a major age gap and an unequal balance of power characterize their bond as potentially problematic.
Both in the book and film, Edward exhibits strange behaviors – he sneaks into Bella’s room to watch her sleep, for instance – that often border on obsessive. Later on in the series, Bella experiences crippling anxiety and depression when kept apart from Edward, again highlighting an unhealthily obsessive focus on her lover.
Ultimately, despite being very young, Bella gives up her chance at a normal life and becomes a vampire so she and Edward can be together forever. Though the series attempts to convince readers that the two are meant to be, it fails to consider how its implications may be damaging to real, young readers.
Their relationship is precisely the opposite of a healthy relationship, even if supernatural elements are in the mix. Multiple scenes in their relationship depict stalking, dishonesty, manipulation, and obsession.
Although their relationship is deemed to be romantic, when considered objectively it’s more than alarming. This type of uncomfortable, and unhealthy behavior could lead to many legal issues in a standard off-screen relationship, and the story’s portrayal of relationships as all-or-nothing romanticizes the idea of completely sacrificing who you are to be with someone else.
Jackson and Ally – A Star is Born
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s movie achieved widespread recognition and praise for its beautiful and heart-wrenching story and characters. However, the glory and acclaim glossed over the unhealthy and toxic relationship shared by the main characters.
The film explores the narrative of Ally, a talented singer, and musician, and Jackson, a country-rock music star, as they deal with the burdens of excessive fame and addiction. The movie shares a dangerous message: women should stay in abusive relationships if they genuinely love the other person.
Ally makes excuses and sacrifices for Jackson because she feels that she owes her success to him. No matter how hard she tries or the efforts she puts in, she cannot save him from his demons. Instead of celebrating Ally’s achievements, Jackson goes into a downward spiral of addiction and depression.
Time and again, people have been captivated by this sort of “love story” when in reality, these stories better serve as cautionary tales. Passion and love are appropriate and healthy, but enabling abusers or accepting toxic behaviors at one’s own expense is not.
Belle and the Beast – Beauty and the Beast
Even the “tale as old as time” can be interpreted as a problematic representation of what it means to be in love.
Many of the relationship dynamics in the film are potentially harmful. Gaston, for instance, displays intense and obsessive behavior. His interest in Belle goes beyond what’s healthy; it seems to stem more from a desire to control Belle and use her as a means to boost his own popularity.
The Beast, who Belle ends up falling in love with, is mean, temperamental and abusive, particularly in the first half of the film. Though the relationship between the two blooms as a result of these circumstances, it’s hard to deny that isolation and fear are largely at play.
The film develops the Beast as a flawed, but still desirable, love interest, but the fact that the relationship between the two stems from an imbalance of power suggests that it may not be meant to last. This sort of relationship model can send messages to young viewers that can result in unhealthy expectations for the future.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the relationship was that it seems to want to make the audience believe that staying with an abusive partner is worthwhile because they may change. Unfortunately, as most people in toxic relationships discover, there is no prince under all the hostility, lack of respect, and abuse that comes with unhealthy partners.
The world of movies is often alluring and beautiful, but viewers should be critical of what they watch. Identifying and calling out films that portray toxic relationships is extremely necessary to avoid promoting unhealthy characteristics and help viewers identify such instances in their own lives.
The media should be diligent about the characters and relationships it portrays on-screen and their impact on audiences, but it also helps to be able to remember that what we see in film is not, and shouldn’t necessarily be, reality.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.
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