It’s Valentine’s Day.  The day for romance.  The day for love.  

But that’s not stopping me.

My wife and I watched “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” this last weekend, so I was planning this post before Melinda Penner at STR praised the final scene in this famous film.  I noticed the final scene too, but for a very different reason.  And on this Valentine’s Day, I’m running the risk of irritating Melinda and lots of other women.  Courage–we need courage.

The film is overtly about racism, but parent’s problematic distress at the fact that the man their daughter loves is black hides the more subtle problem that the film exalts the irrational approach to romantic love that characterized the sixties and seventies, and still lingers.  And I hope that’s the longest sentence I ever write.

Melinda describes the final scene well: 

He’s had his qualms about the difficulties they’ll face from society, but as he tells his family, Poitier and his parents, and his maid and priest, what he’s realized is all that matters is what you feel and how much you feel.  And at that moment he turns to his wife of three decades played by Katherine Hepburn.  Her eyes are filled with tears and he pauses, recollecting their years together.  I mean, they don’t even touch, but the scene packs a powerful emotional punch.  They love each other in a way that only decades together can cultivate, not with hot passion.

Decades can cultivate that love, certainly, but Tracy’s emphatic line sums up his affirmation of the lovers suspiciously irrational decision:  “The only thing that matters is how you feel.”  There are lots of reasons for their parents to be concerned about their impending marriage, none of which have to do with racism.  They only knew each other for a week, there is a decade between them, etc.  While we’re supposed to rightly reject the racism, it comes at a high price: the affirmation that feelings are above everything else.  “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a stirring film, which is exactly what makes it dangerous.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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