Warning: this post contains a movie spoiler scene!
Last weekend, my wife and I cuddled up to watch The Story of Us, a 1999 movie about a married couple, Ben and Katie.
In the movie, we see how Ben (played by Bruce Willis) falls in love with Katie’s quirky obsession about word puzzles, and how Katie (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) falls for Ben’s long hair and fun-loving character.
Fifteen years into marriage, they live in a big house, have two great kids and good jobs. But Ben and Katie’s marriage is falling apart. Ben gets mad because he doesn’t think Katie is spontaneous enough. Katie resents Ben because she thinks his accusations have turned her into a joyless grouch. They reach the point where, as Ben says, fighting became “the language of the relationship.”
Finally, when their kids are off at summer camp, Katie decides that she’s had enough. She wonders, “Maybe there’s another version of my life, of myself, that’s a happier one.” Katie starts seeing another guy, and Ben and Katie decide to divorce.
They agonize about how to break the news to their children. They decide against doing it at their favorite restaurant, Chow Fun’s, because of all the memories they share there together. It would be unfair to tell them there, they agree. They decide to tell them after dinner at home.
“We’ll say that Mommy and Daddy have grown apart,” Ben suggests.
Katie suggests the line that, “we still love each other, but in a different way.”
The kids come back from summer camp, and they reach the decisive moment. But on their way to pick them up, Katie remembers the life they have shared and built together—everything from their wedding day, to their first birth, from “my hamster died” to “my father’s dying,” from “I love you!” to “F— you!”
And in this scene, Katie makes her dramatic choice.
A Story of Us reminds me of another movie that we saw last weekend: Avatar. In Avatar, there seems to be no way to connect the world that Jake Sully knows, and the world of the Na’vi. Just like Ben and Katie fifteen years into marriage, Jake’s world and the Na’vi’s world are too far apart. There’s no connection.
Except that there is! Because in Avatar, after Jake finally and decisively becomes a Na’vi, there comes this moment…
“I see you.” That’s really what Katie was saying to Ben in that last scene. She saw him for the person that he truly was, and she realized he was a good man. Yes, they had gotten older and life had changed—but when she stopped to think about it, she realized that unlike any other person in the world, she saw Ben. And he saw her. And together, they saw their kids in a way that no one else could. And she wanted that “story of us” to last.
“I see you.” That’s really what a couple, when they say the marriage vows, promises to always do. It’s a commitment to the hard work of rediscovering each other “for better or worse … until death do us part.”
So that even when a couple is eighty and losing their eyesight, they can still say, “I see you.”