The Common Good

'You've Got Mail,' A Swedish Movie About Death, Kissing Dating Goodbye, and Finding Love Despite Pride and Prejudice

My husband and I basically fell in love via AOL instant message conversations that led to daily email missives and then to phone calls and then, you know, to actually hanging out in person.

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We knew each other in ‘real’ life but I was so afraid of saying something stupid in front of him that I basically ignored him, which, as it happens, is not a great way to indicate that you actually really like someone. But IM-ing made me bold.

So, in a way, You’ve Got Mail feels like one of “our” movies since it parallels our story just a little.

“Our” real movie is Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which is a 1957 Swedish movie about a knight returning from the crusades during the Black Death who is engaged throughout the movie in a chess match with Death, so, yeah, basically the opposite of You’ve Got Mail.

We were both at a “movie night” at one of our professor’s homes. I’d known he was going to be there and wrote in my meticulous, OCD handwriting in my journal:

I’m so nervous because Tim Stone is going to be there and I don’t want to find him attractive.

Heaven forbid I find him attractive, right? I had clearly been a little too good at "Kissing Dating Goodbye" (thanks, Josh Harris!) In those days when someone asked me out for coffee I usually responded with horror, like they’d just ask me to help dispose of a body.

BUT, when it turned out that Tim and I were almost the only ones in the room who liked the movie, well, I couldn’t help myself, but I found him attractive, even though he was probably wearing his hideous green Big Sky ski resort sweatshirt that I am forbidden to dispose of. There’s a love story embedded in The Seventh Seal that has not the faintest whiff of cheese, and that beauty-from-ashes thing has always really done it for me.

This doesn’t mean I had an actual conversation with Tim; I just directed all my observations about the film toward the professor who was leading the discussion, as did Tim. And it turned out we were making observations that complemented and completed each others’ initial thoughts about the film, which is definitely one of those that invites, rewards, and possibly necessitates re-watching. But I was still sort of (stupidly) passing him by, even though I liked him and totally had the sense that we were running on parallel tracks. 

Over the weekend we re-watched You’ve Got Mail and noticed some things, some of them silly:

1. Because I’m now the parent of book-obsessed kids, I recognize most of the books and posters and toys in the (adorable) “Shop Around the Corner.”

2. Starbucks lids have changed from those awful ones where you had to pull back the tab and press it down (which always popped back in your face and which the best NYC hole-in-the-wall delis still have) and replaced them with the ones that make it easy to slurp without slowing your stride.

3. Now, thanks to Amazon, which I grudgingly use (Kindle is a boon for expats, it is) even the big bad chain bookshops that are being killed off, so it’s hard to actually go to places where you can touch the books before you buy them.

(Except that there are still libraries. And you should use them! Use them for ME, since I’m living in a country without libraries. Please.)

4. I pretty much dressed exactly like Meg Ryan in that movie in that same time period (my last years of high school and first years of college.) White collared shirts, vests, jumpers, tights, clunky Doc Marten-like oxfords.

5. Turns out it’s pretty much a story of pride & prejudice … which is the novel that Meg Ryan’s character gushes about. The phrase “end of Western civilization as we know it” is bandied about in relation to civil servants wasting time on Solitaire (hahahaha!), the Internet, and big chain bookstores. Yes, that gorgeous children’s bookshop goes out of business. But life does go on. Love does go on. Meg Ryan’s character is beginning work on a children’s book. There’s hope.

(Which, weirdly, is also a theme in The Seventh Seal. During what seems to be a [literal] apocalypse, there is joy, hope, and, yes — love.)

Even for the awkward girl who is afraid of the sound of her own voice and of the possibility of finding someone attractive, there’s the possibility of love, and that, however improbably, changes everything.

Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food (InterVarsity Press, March 2013) and a regular contributor to Christianity Today's her.meneutics blog. She has contributed to Christianity TodayThe Christian CenturyBooks & Culture, Flourish, and The Huffington Post, among other publications. She blogs at RachelMarieStone.com and lives in Malawi, Africa, where she teaches English at Zomba Theological College.

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