…”What do these stones mean?… From Joshua 4:21 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
Thanks to good directing by Nick Cassavetes, an excellent cast, and a good script by Jeremy Leven and Jan Sardi. Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook rises above the usual example of its genre, what some critics call “the tear-jerker” or soap opera. James Garner effortlessly (seemingly, he is such a “natural”) plays Noah Calhoun, whom we first see reading to an old woman in a nursing home. It is a notebook containing the love story of a young couple of many years ago. Gradually we learn that the woman is Allie Nelson, played by Gena Rowlands. She does not recognize the reader, but enjoys the story of a bold young man who spots an attractive girl at a carnival and, when she rebuffs him, climbs up onto the Ferris wheel upon which she is riding and hangs on its frame over her until she promises to go on a date with him. Allie loves the story, but at times her fogged mind reacts in fear to the stranger reading to her, so that she summons a nurse’s aide to protect her. This causes Noah great pain and anguish—he is her husband trying desperately to reconnect with the woman to whom he has dedicated his life.
Going back and forth between the parallel stories of the young lovers, set in 1940, and that of the present one, divided now by the Berlin Wall-like Alzheimer’s disease, The Notebook gives us a moving depiction of the contrasts of young and mature love. Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling bring passion and its impetuousness to their roles as Young Allie Nelson and Noah Calhoun. It is the old story of lovers from two different worlds, Noah a common laborer at a sawmill, but with his imagination and drive, a very uncommon human being (he declares, “I am a common man, but I have loved another with all my heart, and for me, that is enough.”). Allie, born into a wealthy Charleston (SC) family is in town with her parents just for the summer. Her beautiful, haughty mother (Joan Allen) tries to keep the two apart—upon her first meeting with Noah, she calls Allie aside and calls him “trash.” Allie is headstrong, so she sees Noah at every opportunity during the summer, Noah showing her a dilapidated old mansion and promising her that one day he will buy and restore it for her. However, her parents force Allie to leave at the end of the summer, Allie sent off to a New York college. Noah writes her every day for a year, but her mother intercepts the letters. By the end of the year, the nation is at war, and the disappointed suitor is shipped off the fight in Europe.
Years pass, and Allie meets a dashing young businessman who, like her, is from a wealthy Southern family. Not having received a word from Noah, and thus believing that he had given up on her, Allie at last gives in to his ardent proposal to marry her. However, the same newspaper that carries the announcement of their engagement also includes an article about the restoration of a once prominent old mansion: there in the picture standing in front of the now gleaming house is its restorer, Noah. Giving in to a wild impulse, Allie dashes back to the small town to confront Noah, her future now as uncertain and troubled as her mind. Allie tells Noah that the house is beautiful, and he replies that he promised her that he would restore it.
In the present Noah takes up the narrative in the notebook after many interruptions. Allie’s doctor tells him that her condition is irreversible, that there can be no reconnecting. Noah obstinately replies, “God takes over where science ends.” The grown and married Calhoun children pay an awkward visit to the mother who thinks they are strangers. Afterward they plead with their father to come home, instead of staying at the home and fruitlessly try to communicate with their mother. His reply is a mixture of a gentle rebuke and determination—that his “sweet heart” lives in the home and so his place is with her. What a beautiful story of the birth and strength of eros love, facing and overcoming all obstacles, and then, through the years maturing and growing into as close a replica of agape love as we are ever to see!
For thought and discussion:
1) Compare the youthful love of Noah and Allie with that of their maturity. How does it stay the same yet change?
2) Compare Noah’s standing by his promise to Allie concerning the dilapidated mansion with that of his refusing to leave her alone in the nursing home. Note the promise in most marriage vows concerning “in sickness and in health; for richer or poorer…”
3) At what points do we see faith and hope, as well as love in Noah? At what point is Noah’s faith justified? Have you experienced anything like it with an Alzheimer patient? How is the loss of one’s memory one of the worst things that can happen to us? How is memory central to our Christian faith? (Check out in a concordance “memorial,” “memory,” and “remember” to see how many times they appear in the Scriptures.) How does the Notebook take on a role for Allie and Noah similar to that of the twelve stones that Joshua had set up at Gilgal? (See Joshua 4:19-24.)
4) What acts of grace do you see in the film? The gift of the letters; the nurse’s aide’s taking a break to eat?
5) What do you think of Noah’s words to Allie, “I know you feel lost now, but don’t worry. Nothing is ever lost”?
6) What does the song “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which we hear on the soundtrack near the end, contribute to the story?