A gorgeous and frequently emotional rumination on the “big things” in life, James Gallagher’s new short film, Love, poses questions on what we love, why we love it, and what happens when the desire to win becomes detrimental to our experience of ourselves and other people. While that description seems preachy, the film is not didactic—on the contrary, its plot is extremely loose and impressionistic, requiring the viewer some effort to construct its fast-moving snippets into a coherent narrative.
Of course, a viewer can choose not to do that work—the film works splendidly as an exercise in affect as well. Powered by wonderful compositions, lovely cinematography, and a dreamy, montage structure, Love is a very satisfying film when experienced purely as a tone poem. This liberatory instinct from the confines of the traditional narrative will feel frustrating to some, but it is the film’s most unique and notable quality and jives well with its themes of emotional interrogation and self-knowledge. Possessing a visual and tonal rhythm that evokes Malick, Love skips between time and place to highlight momentous interactions between its characters and highlight portentous lines of dialogue like a Cliff’s Note version of a longer film (in the most flattering way possible).
As the logline suggests, it is a film about fathers, sons, and yes, tennis, but it is also a sneaky deconstruction of masculinity. Its archetypes are not unfamiliar—an up and coming sports star discovers his passion for the game is being crushed by his overbearing father. What is the source of his love for the sport? Is it in the game itself, or is it solely in the outcome? The father himself must reckon with this same question late in his life, as a serious event forces him to reconsider the wisdom of the lessons he tried to impart and which, for years, ordered his relationships with the most important people in his life.
In communicating with us, Gallagher expressed serious thinking around the modern state of masculinity, noting that, “A lot of what I felt like I was taught growing up about manhood feels brutish and unkind. I think we’re finding that the older paradigms of masculinity are vitally damaging but we don’t have much consensus on how masculinity ought to function in the world.”
Sport serves as a proxy for this interrogation. Being an artist, it is somewhat cliché to imagine Gallagher as antagonistic to athletics, but he doesn’t reject them. Indeed he finds aesthetic value in their pursuit. Instead, he finds something pernicious in competition, noting, “I don’t think there’s much value in feeling better than another person and I think it’s damaging to view life through competitive terms. We all have different starting lines, strengths, weaknesses, proclivities, and desires while competition requires the assumption of false equivalencies for the sake of comparison.”
Sports, in Gallagher’s reasoning, are representative of an all-too-common problem in one’s approach to life, a theme that is highlighted via the overlapping, and contrasting narratives of the father and son. The beauty of both is in the doing—in being present and attuned to the experience of now, rather than hinging one’s joy on potential future experience, i.e., the retrospective satisfaction of victory. It’s timeless wisdom, and no less vital because of its familiarity—Love encourages us to not wait to find meaning until the end, after all, in the end, we’re all dead.