When individuals communicate interpersonally, numerous factors come into play that reveal much about their feelings, attitudes, positions, and such. Five concepts utilized in this paper are self-awareness, self-disclosure, irreversibility, humor and context. These concepts are defined and applied to dialogue among major characters in the movie The Notebook, based on Nicholas Spark’s popular love novel. The impact of concepts such as self-awareness and humor exhibited by Noah (the main male character), context emphasized by her mother, and lack of self-disclosure by Allie converge to show how interpersonal communication can be predicated on many things, even self-deceit. The ultimate theme supported by interpersonal communication in this movie appears to be the way in which Allie is shielded from threats and unhappiness by those around her, even until death.
As with any motion picture based on fiction, the dialogue in The Notebook (Emmerich, 20040 is contrived. Due to the genre of the film, a sentimental love story, interpersonal communication at times may seem particularly saccharine, overly forgiving, or prematurely playful. Nonetheless, each major character demonstrates concepts tied to interpersonal communication that both define the character and further the story and audience reaction. The movie is the saga of a romance between a young girl of privilege, a poor but plucky suitor, their separation (due in part to her parents), their reunion, and their semi-tragic end.
After a full life together, the wife suffers from dementia and rarely realizes he is her husband; he refuses to leave her alone in a nursing home despite pleas from their adult children, recommendations from the staff, and nearly total non-recognition by his wife. Five interpersonal communication concepts appearing in the film and pertinent to this paper are discussed below. Following that elucidation, prevalent characters’ uses of communication will be examined in depth. Finally, the writer will offer conclusions regarding the screenwriter’s use of interpersonal dialogue and its impact on the impression each character makes and leaves upon the viewers.
Interpersonal Communication Concepts
Communication is the conveyance of meaning. Although there can be self-communication, or non-received communication, the paramount form is interpersonal communication which occurs between two or more individuals. Communication can be accomplished through talking, gestures, expressions, body language, even silence. For the purpose of this analysis, the writer chose to focus on the following five interpersonal communication concepts and how they were utilized by major characters in the movie The Notebook: self-awareness, self-disclosure, irreversibility, context, and humor.
One of the first concepts attendant to interpersonal communication is self-awareness. When a person speaks to another, his or her level of self-awareness can be overtly or inadvertently revealed. A confident person will communicate without hesitation or uncertainty. An insecure or easily manipulated person might avoid issues, deflect, or even exhibit dishonesty in interactions (Hussung, 2007). Self-disclosure, or managing expectations and the ultimate goal of a conversation, also is present in interpersonal communications (Hussung, 2007). This aspect mirrors self-awareness to some extent, because a person who knows what he or she wants will communicate that to others, and to know what one wants requires a level of self-awareness. Irreversibility is a fairly obvious facet of any communication. Once something is said, it cannot be unsaid (King, 2000).
This fact has become particularly relevant in the media-saturated Internet era of today. Once something is communicated online, it will be a permanent record held on a server somewhere or downloaded on others’ devices. Thus, communication is permanent. Context is yet another vital concept associated with interpersonal communication. Context can be psychological—based on the state of mind of the speakers. It can be relational. Power hierarchies impact communication (boss/employee; parent/child) as do emotional feelings (love, hate, etc.) (King, 2000). Situational context may temper or exacerbate what someone is willing to say. In a quiet restaurant or a church an amount of decorum applies, while at a large festival or carnival individuals might show lack of restraint in their expressions. This is somewhat similar to environmental context, which involves not only setting and situation, but physical surroundings including heat, time of day, season, holiday time, and such (King, 2000). Finally, communication is influenced by culture.
Culture can encompass the customs and traditions of an ethnic group, a national unit, a religious tenet or tenets, or even socio-economic standing. Cultural miscommunication is often the cause of misunderstandings—even gestures like showing your teeth (as in smiling) can be considered rude in some cultures (such as traditional Japanese), hence particularly young women will cover their mouths with their hands when they laugh or smile—a practice complete opposite of Western culture, where a wide smile is seen as a sign of approval or joy. These five concepts are linked to major characters in The Notebook (Emmerich, 2004) to different degrees, as the writer will explain below.
The film (based on a book of the same design) is patterned as a story within a story. When the two main characters are first introduced, they are older, having lived their lives. Noah, the husband, is living in a nursing home to be near his beloved wife Allie, who suffers from irreversible dementia. Chronologically, however, as older Noah (called Duke to lessen Allie’s confusion) reads to her about their relationship together, the first encounter between young Noah and young Allie is very revealing about his character based on several concepts discussed above.
Noah and Allie met at a carnival in the early 1940s. As noted above, a carnival setting, especially in the summer, enhanced a feeling of freedom and abandon. Noah’s first words to Allie were “Wanna dance” (Emmerich, 2004). These words are no doubt impacted by the environment, because few serious suitors would approach a complete stranger with such an intimate request unless at a club or other entertainment venue. Even more significant, however, was how these words reflected Noah’s self-awareness and self-disclosure. He was willing to put himself out there, on the line, risking refusal in front of friends. He made an intimate proposition that was somewhat inappropriate, but later said “when I see something I want, I have to have it” (Emmerich, 2004).
Noah was a determined person who knew his desires and was not afraid to express them through interpersonal communication. As expected, Allie (being a Southern rich girl of “high-class” breeding) refused the impudent request, but this only spurred on Noah. He recklessly climbed a Ferris wheel and hung by one arm until Allie agreed (under duress) to go out with him. This initial encounter revealed considerable information about both characters, but particularly Noah, who basically had few limits and was open to try anything to get what he wanted—self-assured and self-determined. Both he and Allie used humor consistently in their interchanges, and smiled and laughed continually despite the seriousness underlying his request—because he really “wanted” her, basically love at first sight.
As the summer love developed, there was the inevitable montage of the two teens biking, swimming, laughing, fighting (they did that a lot) then making up and making out. In a well-known scene Allie is wading amongst birds and asked Noah to say that she is a bird and he is a bird. Noah, despite his fanciful side, does not want to commit to something so obviously untrue, but finally capitulates out of love for Allie and says “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” (Emmerich, 2004), which is a pledge of commitment. Noah brings Allie into his world, shares his dreams of restoring an antebellum plantation with her, and almost makes love to her after both have whispered that they loved each other, a moment interrupted because Allie’s parents are looking for her with police help given the time of night (2 a.m.). The resulting conversation between Allie and her parents (especially her mother, who has been discreetly critical of Noah during every meeting) results in Noah overhearing the mother call him trash, and remind Allie that this summer fling will end the minute she goes to college in New York (a fact she had withheld from Noah at first).
Noah then prompts a fight with Allie in order to do what is best for her as defined by the culture she in part of (rich, Southern America). Allie pushes and hits Noah, who will not hit her but hits himself instead, and then he leaves as she yells she hates him (but soon tries to recant). This plays into the irreversibility of interpersonal communication, because once Allie said she hated Noah, he set off to tell his best friend that the relationship was over. Allie moved on, although Noah reached out to her daily for a year by letters (intercepted by her mother).
Inevitably, the meet up again, after nearly a decade and when Allie is engaged to a sincere and rich, handsome Southern gentleman (clearly approved by her parents). Noah has the chance to talk to Allie when he sees her with her fiancé in Charleston but (somewhat uncharacteristically for him, yet again due to self-sacrifice for her own good) resists.
Allie actually reaches out to Noah after seeing his picture and the plantation in the paper while reading about her wedding plans. She goes to see him, presumably for closure, but despite the irreversibility of interpersonal communication, Noah breaks down and tells her that “It isn’t over—it was NEVER over!” (Emmerich, 2004). This scene comes fittingly after they had boated among a huge gathering of swans (birds), and Noah explains that they will eventually go where they should (a metaphor for Allie the bird coming back to him).
Older Noah has a much harder time communicating with Allie since she does not recognize him other than sporadically and then for only a few minutes at a time. He lovingly and patiently stays by her despite a united front of family and staff telling him it is hopeless. But Noah, who has always been self-aware and self-determined, says that with Allie he is home, in fact to their adult children he says “your mother is my home.” For him, the lucid moments when Allie knows who he is are worth the days, weeks, and months of reading to his wife as if he were a stranger, and even her being afraid of him after a brief period of recognition.
Allie is a creature of her environment. She tells Noah of all her commitments (Latin tutor, music lessons, etc.) and it is clear she is being groomed to be a genteel Southern woman. She often waffles in their communications, unlike Noah whose self-awareness allows him to say whatever he pleases. She is easily manipulated—she agrees to go out with Noah during the Ferris wheel stunt, he convinces her to lie in the street despite the danger to look at changing traffic lights, and she caves to her mother’s demands fairly regularly. Allie does wait seven years before moving on past Noah, but when she falls in love with Lon, the genuinely nice, rich heir to a cotton fortune, she falls hard. There is a similar amount of humor between Lon and Allie as existed between her and Noah.
Allie may find it easier to communicate her feelings using hyperbole or sarcasm because of her own insecurities. When she goes to see Noah she withholds the reason from Lon, who does not question her out of both love and respect for her as a person. Allie is obviously still in love with Noah but even so hesitates to commit to him for fear of hurting others and of what others will think (Emmerich, 2004). She lacks the ability to confront her own feelings, and keeps asking if what they had was real—trying to attribute their attraction to a summer romance (environmental/setting context).
Older Allie is portrayed as very gentle and confused in her communication. She does not know Noah/Duke but clearly enjoys his reading to her. She says over and over how much she likes the story (that she herself wrote) and hopes the two young lovers get together. She even says that, when Allie’s mother first separated them, Allie should have told her mother off in unseemly terms, a departure from young Allie who would not speak thus of her mother. It is heart-breaking to see older
Allie interact with her own children and grandchildren as if they are strangers, and even more so when she finally does recognize Noah/Duke briefly. She has no conception of the sacrifices he is making for her, but she communicates her love for him, asks about the children, and then snaps out of lucidity and screams about him touching her and calling her darling, since he is just some man in a nursing home. The final interpersonal communication between the pair in the movie follows Noah/Duke’s third heart attack, when he goes to see Allie at night. She recognizes him, and asks if their love is strong enough to take them away together. He of course agrees, crawls in bed to cuddle with her, and they are found apparently dead in each other’s arms the next day by the nurse. Although in her final words Allie states what she wants, she still phrases it as a question, asking Noah for confirmation.
Allie’s mother is very controlling of Allie, obviously planning her future down to the last tennis lesson. The mother comes off as haughty, smug and snobby when interacting with others. At the aforementioned picnic she humiliates Noah due to his poverty and lack of standing. She smugly reveals in front of everyone that Allie has decided to go to college in New York, which Allie had not told Noah. This of course embarrasses and hurts Noah, as intended (the mother is self-aware and self-directed and realized this setting is the perfect place to plant seeds of mistrust between the two). The mother intercepts Noah’s letters so that Allie will go to New York unencumbered. The mother is exceedingly pleased when Allie falls for Lon, and in front of her own friends brags that the wedding will be the event of the decade, with the governor in attendance (Emmerich, 2004). Appearances are clearly important to the mother, as is control.
The irony is that it is eventually revealed that Allie’s mother is motivated by a fear that Allie will throw her life away with a man beneath her station because that is what she tried to do. The mother takes Allie to a coal mine and shows her a poor worker, not overly attractive, but confesses that in her teens she was madly in love with him and tried to run away with him. Her grandfather stopped them, and she later married Allie’s father, who is good to her and has provided her with security and a form of love. This is the most honest and self-revelatory dialogue perhaps in the entire movie, and explains why Allie’s mother has been so hard on Allie and so harsh to Noah. In the end, however, the mother seems to understand that her daughter must make her own choices and live with them.
Lon is an infuriating character because the audience, already solidly in Noah’s corner, would prefer to despise him. Unfortunately, Lon is not only handsome and rich, but very nice and more understanding than anyone in his position should be. He laces his interpersonal communications with humor, such as when he proposes to Allie and acts like marrying him would be good because it would remind her parents that she gave up defying them to conform. When Allie goes to see Noah (without telling Lon) he does not object. When he learns of Allie’s infidelity, Lon does not display anger. (Emmerich, 2004).
Noah’s communication styles reveal a self-assured and confident person. Allie is more tentative, easily led, and sheltered by others. Allie’s mother is surprising in that her unusually brusque communication is explained by what she feels was a moment of shame. Finally, Lon is almost too likeable and reasonable, again making things easy on Allie. All five concepts of interpersonal communication are present in this movie to help explain actions of the main characters, especially when they otherwise would not make sense.