The "Last Resort" To Love

Last ResortWhen I think about what contributes to many young women's fantasies of love, movies are one of the first things that to come to mind. Film is a very powerful medium, and even if we rarely ever see our lives reflected back to us in the movies we watch, seeing the same story over and over again can have a strong effect. I once had a roommate who watched "Pretty Woman" a thousand times wishing that someday she would be swept off her feet like Julia Roberts' character had been.

The recent movie "Last Resort" is supposed to be such a love story, but it does not portray the run of the mill Romeo and Juliet against-the-odds type of romance.

The film starts out in an aiport in Britain, where a young woman, (Tanya) and her son have traveled all the way from Russia to meet with her fiancee, Mark. When they arrive, however, they find that he is not there to meet them. Because the two do not own passports, and have very little money, they are faced with deportation. But Tanya does not want to leave Britain without first finding out what has happened to Mark, so she does the first thing that comes to mind: she claims her son and herself as refugees.

From there the small family is transported to the "Last Resort," a town which, except for the other refugees, guards, and profit-seeking businessmen, has no other signs of civilization. It is a place where the sky is always dark gray, a place that director Pawel Pawlikowski, says he used to "create a feeling that the town is the end of the world, a place from which there is no escape ... "

"I once had a roommate who watched "Pretty Woman" a thousand times wishing that someday she would be swept off her feet like Julia Roberts' character had been."
When they arrive in the refugee town she at once gets down to the task of finding Mark. When she finally reaches him, and is told what the audience had already guessed -- that he has no plans for marriage -- she struggles to find a way to get back to Russia.

The film's production notes describe Tanya as "naive" and "young." But this description is not at all close to what Dina Korzun, the actress who played Tanya, gave to the role. True, the Tanya character was desperate enough to get imprisoned just to find out what happened to her fiancee. But no matter how many "girly" berets are clipped on Korzun's hair to emphasize what was written to be a youthful and naive character, Korzun's performance did not convince me of this. Instead there is a fearlessness and determination about Tanya, a silent strength that always seemed to say, "You don't fool me."

If I had not read the production notes I would not have known that the main purpose of the film was the romance between Tanya and a man she meets later in the town, Alfie. That seemed just a small detail in the story of her self-realization. When Tanya walked through the door of Alfie's arcade store, it was obvious why he wanted to help her son and her out, but as an audience member, I was convinced -- for the first half of the film -- that he would be just another male tormentor.

Shortly after arriving to the town, Tanya also meets Les, a businessman who produces pornography on the web. The main moment of conflict comes in the film when the heroine has to make a decision about working for Les, in order to buy tickets to back to Russia. Tanya then must live with her choice and save her small family. This effort, and internal strength it takes for Tanya to move forward in her life -- not the romance she later finds -- was what I saw as the film's central story.

As the relationship between Alfie and Tanya grew closer, I became sick. I asked myself: Are there no more ideas left out there for films? Why must there always be a Hollywood romance?

Last ResortBut shortly after this hasty judgement, there was a small scene that changed my view on the film. In the scene, Tanya and Alfie are sitting on a pier and Tanya tells him about her life in Russia. Aside from her son, she tells him, Tanya also lives with her mother and grandmother. She describes them as three generations of women who share the same mistakes; they have of wasted their lives away searching for love.

"Is that what you're searching for? Love?" Alfie asks.

"That is why I'm here," Tanya answers.

It's a very short scene, but it had a lasting effect on me. For the rest of the film I simultaneously paid close attention to the plot of the film, and traveled back through time. I remembered a girl (myself at thirteen) hanging with a group of boys outside of a bowling alley late at night. The girl with a cigarette and beer in her hand is trying to look tough in her Fila jacket, and baggy jeans. Because of her presence and because she is not really considered a friend by them, the boys talk in a lingo she doesn't understand. As they talk she stares at the full moon, which on that particular evening is "like a big pizza", with an indescribable feeling of romanticism. She is hanging out with these boys to take full advantage of being a teenager, and to have fun, but she also has another, deeper desire. She believes that she will find love with one of these boys.

If this scene were part of a movie, it would be apparent to the viewer that the boys are talking about her. They see this type of girl as a whore, no matter how tough she tries to be. That girl on the other hand is the real "young naive" character. She is be blinded, even flattered by the attention any of these boys gives her -- even if it means bluntly calling her a bitch.

"The internal strength it takes for Tanya to move forward in her life -- not the romance she later finds -- was what I saw as the film's central story."
After viewing "Last Resort", I wanted to know what other people thought about this phenomenon -- young women's self-destructive search for love. I wondered: what makes this powerful hunger for romantic relationships grow in so many of us? What makes it so uncontrollable that some of us are willing to go to such extremes, like choosing to wait in a refugee camp for a guy who is not worth it?

Then I read "The Cinderella Complex," by Colette Dowling. It's a book that discusses women's secret desire to "be saved" from all the tasks of independence and relates our sense of romantic love to that desire. Some of this desire to be saved is portrayed in the beginning of "Last Resort." As Tanya sits desperately for hours in the airport waiting for the fiancee. In that scene she clearly believes that everything will be okay once Mark shows up.

Although Tanya, eventually, ends up in a romantic relationship, what makes the film remarkable is that it does not end like a fairytale. Instead of choosing to "live happily ever after," Tanya simply chooses to start living her life, to be independent.

"Last Resort" is -- perhaps by accident -- a great film. But more important, this is the kind of film that young women should be exposed to rather than fantasies like "Pretty Woman." It is time we are shown images of women learning that to enjoy life they must taking better care of, and taking responsibility for, themselves.
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