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Love in the Movie "Tristan and Isolde"

Updated on July 10, 2020
Nalini Marquez profile image

Nalini combines her love of meaning, analysis, and critical thinking with movies, media, and discussion to bring a different perspective.


"Before Romeo and Juliet, there was Tristan and Isolde."

Or so we are told from the tag line to this bittersweet romance between star-crossed lovers. We are no strangers to star-crossed lovers. Something about them tugs at our emotional heart strings and resonates on a level we understand.

This is your spoiler alert.

The story of Tristan and Isolde unfolds.

Messages About Love in "Tristan and Isolde"

Tristan and Isolde is filled with messages about love, duty, conflict, morality, and our existence as human beings. To some, this story of star-crossed lovers may not appeal to them in any form, especially since there are so many flaws in the characters and infidelity. But to me, there is so much commentary regarding the state of the human mind-soul-heart and physical body, the implications of romance, morality, and the existence of love and its conflict with other things.

--the romantic conflict's effect on the character's inner turmoil

--the romantic conflict's effect on the character degradation and downward spiral

--the romantic conflict's effect on the outside characters and other existing relationships (Mark, the brother, Isolde and Mark)

--The mental, physical, emotional manifestation of the turmoil

--The existence of the love in isolation vs with others

--The competing of values and ideals (love and duty) and the moral implications of each

Messages in Tristan and Isolde Regarding the Human Mind-Soul-Heart and Physical Body

Tristan and Isolde shows a love that is a much a driving as it is a destructive force, and a love that is as much compelling as it is consuming. It highlights the the greatness of love's intensity, and also its ability to be misused and mishandled in the human experience. And it shows how these things can take a toll on humans on the mind, body, heart, and spiritual level. Through their struggle against their feelings for each other, duty, and what is right and wrong, Tristan and Isolde present many questions and ideas related to the human existence.

Some of these include:

-The question of why humans would be capable of feelings if they are not meant to have them, and why humans would long for things if they are not meant to be theirs? The implication is that Tristan and Isolde and meant to be due to the feelings and longing that Tristan and Isolde have for each other but the toll that it takes on Tristan and Isolde and those around them (both relationships and in the greater community) make the opposite argument.

-The idea that just because something cannot be does not mean that it is not true.

-The idea that life is greater than death, and that love is greater than either.

-The question of what in life is worth living and dying for, and the meaning of that in relation to duty, honor, and love.

-The idea that love is made by God and to ignore it, one suffers as he/she cannot imagine. The movie highlights and makes the argument for both the suffering involved in ignoring love and the suffering involved in giving into it in the wrong way. The movie does not present love in a way that is in conjunction with duty, honor, and living the right way, which would be the love that would have been closest to the love that Isolde referenced as being made by God but this love was not the love that was possible for Tristan and Isolde, and the points where their love might have worked out as such were not the paths that were taken.

The Love Triangle

The love triangle in Tristan and Isolde is the primary source of conflict in the story. It is during the most intense period of the triangle that there is also the greatest intensity in the conflict for the other characters. We are no strangers to the popularity of the love triangle but what has made the story stand out as the story before Romeo and Juliet and what makes this version of Tristan and Isolde work is how strongly it portrays the romantic conflict simultaneously against the war conflict and the outer and inner conflict of the characters. Tristan and Isolde is recognizable as a memorable romance because of how well it conveys what is at stake for both the romance and the other people in the story.

Love v.s. Duty

In terms of the love vs duty argument that Tristan and Isolde makes, the story makes a pretty good argument about it. In some ways it says that their love is selfish and destroys everyone around them, including them. At the same time, it says a lot about how love can be a consuming and compromising force, that it can make it difficult to see things clearly or to have what we want, and that it can influence our actions.

It shows how sometimes lovers cannot have everything they want and that there is no happy medium. Tristan and Isolde were happy in love when there were isolated and untouched by the world; untouched by the challenges of others or day-to-day life. But love and individuals cannot and do not live like this, and a love and life like this cannot be sustained.

When it came time for their love to live in the world, they did not act as they should have at various points in time and were in conflict about their love throughout the story. They were either consumed by their passion and desire to be together or were consumed by their guilt about what they were doing, but in neither turmoil did they find contentment, peace, or clarity.

They were always torn between right and wrong or acting against what was right, and so they could not fully enjoy their love and relationship.

When it comes time to choose between love and duty, Tristan in a way chooses both. He returns to having a "purer" love with Isolde (a self-sacrificing, selfless love that puts her out of harm's way and gives her freedom) and fulfills his duty to Lord Marc by joining Lord Marc in a fight that will ultimately cost Tristan his life.

The ending brings Tristan's choice of both love and duty full circle as while he is dying he reflects on the validity of Isolde's comments and states them as truth to Isolde. In his last moments, Tristan takes on the physical manifestation of his choice of duty and the words and thoughts of his choice of love. Since we are comprised of mind, body, soul, and heart, Tristan's physical manifestation of duty and verbal expression of his mind/soul/heart reflect powerful statements/messages regarding love and duty, and also reflect the importance and conflict that they both present. It was a perfect ending to the argument presented in this story because it validated both love and duty while resonating on a meaningful level.

© 2018 Nalini Marquez


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