Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Odd Couples, Odd Conflicts

Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Louis Trintignant in Il Sorpasso (1962).

Filmmakers tend to put together characters who are opposites because opposites create contrast and conflict.  A story is more stimulating if two characters with diametrically opposed personalities need to get along and possibly need to work together to acheive a mutual goal.  The Odd Couple, whether in stage, film or television form, emphasized the tidiness of one character in contrast to the messiness of the other.  In a broader sense, this is the common opposition of the disciplined and the undisciplined.  It is, too, the opposition of the introvert and the extrovert.  Fiona MacDonald, a journalist and zoologist, wrote:
Research has found thicker prefrontal cortices in introverts as compared to extroverts, which is associated with deeper thought and planning - suggesting that introverts are less impulsive than extroverts.
It is inevitable that impulsivity brings about undisciplined behavior. 

A prolific effort has been driven forth by filmmakers to join together an introvert and extrovert for the sole purpose of highlighting the inevitable conflict the two will create.  These relationships tend to be chaotic, but writers love to see the whirling winds of chaos spin loose various detritus of drama and comedy.  But to what extent do these relationships reflect reality?

Linda and Charlie Bloom wrote in Psychology Today:
Opposites, or perhaps more accurately, "complements" do attract.  Introverts and extroverts, morning people and night people, impulsives and planners, steady plodders and adrenaline junkies, adventure-grabbers and security-seekers. .  . [T]here's no denying the idea that something in us is drawn to people who counter some of our dominant inclinations with complementary tendencies.  And while this can create some interesting challenges for most couples, these differences are actually the source of what is considered by many to be the source of the most important aspect of any successful relationship: chemistry.
My Worst Nightmare (2011) is a romantic comedy that shows an introvert and an extrovert bringing balance to each other's lives.  The cold and distant introvert, Agathe Novic (Isabelle Huppert), does not know how to have fun or reach out to other people, which causes her to lose her husband to another woman, while the wild and impulsive extrovert, Patrick Demeuleu (Benoît Poelvoorde), only knows how to have fun and lacks the control and determination needed to fulfill his goals and achieve success.  Patrick draws out Agathe, making her a warmer and happier person, and Agathe teaches Patrick to focus and be a more responsible and productive person.

Only Huppert could play a cold and distant character and make that character delightful, but she becomes even more delightful once the character gets to loosen up.  Poelvoorde is able to play wild and crazy while revealing the occasional glimmer of kindness and integrity buried beneath the crude surface.  The actors make this an engaging tale and it is reasonable in the context of the story to want the couple to stay together and live happily ever after.  But is this just movie fantasy?  Could such a drastically different man and woman work out their differences in real life and actually influence each other to be a better person?  I have my doubts.

I certainly disagree with the Blooms.  Reasonable people are not attracted to chaotic relationships.  They do not see chaos as something good.  People like the Blooms believe that chaos is dynamic and that a dynamic relationship drives out passion and creativity, from which both people can thrive.  Sameness is, in their estimation, boring for both parties and creates stagnation in a relationship.  Mistress America (2015), which I wrote about at length in a 2015 article, did a good  job of pushing against this foolish notion.  The compatibility of like-minded people advances ideas and gets things done.  We succeed through steady consensus, not ceaseless conflict.  Consider the fact that the Blooms are in the same profession and share many of the same ideas.  Is that sort of sameness boring to them?

I have now seen Il Sorpasso (1962), which manages even better than Mistress America to destroy the idea that extroverts and introverts can thrive together.  Il Sorpasso's extrovert, Bruno Cortona (Vittorio Gassman), is unpredictable in his freewheeling ways.  The introvert that becomes involved with Bruno is a studious law student, Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant).  Roberto is alternately thrilled and appalled by Bruno's actions.  He normally leads a cautious and controlled life, which suits him even though his life can be dull and prohibitive at times.  But Bruno's life is entirely different.  The man is so random in his behavior that it is impossible to tell what will happen with him from one minute to the next.  Sometimes, he does something impulsive that turns out well and sometimes he does something impulsive that turns out bad.  His life is in the hands of fate.  He, himself, has little control of his life.  His impromptu situations can turn on a dime, which makes playing with Bruno as dangerous as playing a round of Russian roulette.

I talked in the Mistress America article about my relationship with my uncle.  My uncle died in January.  Much conflict existed between us because of our personality differences: he stood out as the ultimate extrovert while I stood out as the ultimate introvert.  I saw my uncle and I in Bruno and Roberto.  Bruno was similar to my late uncle in many ways.  At one point, Bruno's obnoxious behavior provokes a physical battle with two men in a restaurant.  I was in situations like that with my uncle, who was always annoying people with his careless actions.  It gave the film a good degree of reality and meaning to me. 

Rest in peace, Uncle Sonny.  I love you despite our differences.

Reference sources

Linda and Charlie Bloom, "The Real Reason That Opposites Attract," Psychology Today (January 2, 2014).  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stronger-the-broken-places/201401/the-real-reason-opposites-attract.

Fiona MacDonald, "The Science of Introverts vs Extroverts," Science Alert (October 27, 2016).  https://www.sciencealert.com/the-science-of-introverts-vs-extroverts.

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