Gabrielle: Boze, have you ever been in love?
Gabrielle: Have you ever said you were in love?
Boze: Sure, plenty of times.
That's a bit of dialogue from The Petrified Forest, starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, but which is better known as the vehicle that introduced Humphrey Bogart to the American public. Bette Davis plays Gabrielle Maple, a twenty-ish reader of Francois Villon who dreams of living in France while Leslie Howard plays Alan Squier, a doomed romantic hitchhiking across the country, “looking for something to believe in, something worth living for and, perhaps, dying for.” Compared to the denizens of Black Mesa, Arizona the worldly and eloquent Mr Squier is like a visitor from another planet and Gabrielle wastes no time (“I don't make many mistakes”) in falling for him. Thanks to Gabrielle's vivacity, Alan begins to shake off some the Weltschmerz he's carried around for a number of years. Even so, as Gabrielle visualizes scenarios in which they can be together, he smiles but knows better: despite his growing feelings for her and the promise of happiness in her visualizations, he's been around enough to know two people can be in love and yet not be right for each other, no matter how hard they try.
Now, what about this Boze character? Where and how does he figure in? As portrayed by Dick Foran, Boze Hertzlinger is a former college football player (“I should have been an All-American”) working at the gas station/cafe owned by Gabrielle's father, who still wears his old football jersey and splits his time between pumping gas, kicking a football around, and putting the make on Gabrielle. He's so full of himself as to be almost beyond belief. After confronting Gabrielle about her feelings toward him (“Whattsa matter, honey, don't you like me?”) and hearing her response (“No, not very much”) he follows by assuring her she'll change her tune “once I've had time to go into my act” which led to the exchange at the top of this column.
Three very different people with three very different views of love:
To Boze, love is a series of hit and run missions whose success or failure rests on the level of acceptance his “act” receives from the current object of his desire. To Gabrielle, love is starry-eyed and laughing, full of promise, beauty, and dancing in the streets of Paris. To Alan, love may ultimately be “something worth living for and, perhaps, dying for” but to date it has proven to be both elusive and, when encountered, fleeting.
What I have been assured is an ancient Chinese axiom tells us “truth has many faces” which I believe is the point of Kurosawa's Rashomon. Is truth subjective? If that's the case then are Gabrielle, Alan, and Boze equally correct in their definition of love, based on their dreams/expectations/experiences? Is love, therefore, merely another example of the “perception is reality” school of thought and not a many splendored thing or what, in fact, makes the world 'round? One thing's certain: those are three decidedly Western points of view (and they do indeed make for a terrific story). But now check this out:
From The Mahabharata – a truly epic-length poem, fifteen times longer than The Bible, written in Sanskrit, and the source of The Bhagavad Gita – comes the story of Gandhari, a beautiful young princess of India. As was the custom, while still a mere nubbin arrangements were made for her to one day wed a prince from another noble family. Also in keeping with custom, neither member of the future royal couple had ever seen the other. When the Big Day finally arrived, Gandhari was in her room adding a few last minute touches to her already near-perfect looks when a servant arrived bearing less-than-good news: she had just seen Gandhari's future husband and while he was indeed handsome, intelligent, and of noble bearing he was also as blind as a bat. Gandhari's initial response was as you might expect from a pampered member of the ruling class: how could this be? Why was she never told? What was the use of having beautiful hair and skin, equally beautiful make up and clothing, and luscious, ruby red lips if her husband would never be able to see them? No doubt someone would even have to lead him to her in the bridal chamber that night. Oh, woe woe woe!
But then, in a change that would have seemed sudden on the road to Damascus, Gandhari became as calm as a summer's day and asked the servant to bring her a scarf. When the scarf was in her hands she looked at her servant, said “You are my last image of this world” and tied the scarf tightly over her eyes. “I will never take it off. Give me your hand and lead me to my husband. Now I can never reproach him for his misfortune.” And she never did, nor did she ever remove her blindfold. She had never seen the prince, had never spoken with him, never so much as accidentally brushed her hand against his and yet she performed an incredibly selfless act. Isn't that also characteristic of love, the performance of selfless acts?
(To be fair, Alan Squier also performs an incredibly selfless act in the final reel of The Petrified Forest but I will say no more because you really ought to check it out for yourself.)
Once again we have to ask: is there only one definition of Love or, like Truth, does it indeed have many faces?