So why is the movie Spring a romance on par with Casablanca for me? First, a disclaimer about criticism. A work of art has more dimensions than any criticism of it. I mean this figuratively, but it’s a tight analogy: a review stands in relation to a book or movie as a photo, or at best a set of photos, does in relation to a sculpture. I published nearly a hundred reviews by Lucius Shepard, and he was consistently right about films from the viewpoint he chose to take, but I thought he often dismissed what was good about a movie to concentrate on what didn’t work. He would stare hard into the butt-crack of Michelangelo’s David, so to speak, before grudgingly admitting it was better than most statues, taking the butt-crack view. Our mutual teacher Kate Wilhelm told both of us independently and years apart that she didn’t think The Lord of the Rings worked, and she was right, I think — according to the same principle. It’s still the best fantasy series ever.
I wouldn’t open with such a blow-hardy disclaimer if I didn’t care about the film enough to validate the experience and look out for the time of those who wouldn’t like it. It’s not going to be on par with Casablanca for most people. If you are wondering whether to watch Spring but don’t want me to give anything away, then maybe this will help: it’s a romance, not a horror movie. Its foil would be Let the Right One In, at least the Swedish original, which I consider the best vampire movie ever, and for me the most disturbing, decidedly a horror movie, staring into the bleak dark hole at the bottom of existence. Physical and spiritual mutilation has damned the young victim of Let the Right One In, who must tragically thirst after a kind of eternal spring while gripped by winter, disdaining the other seasons, clinging to decadent immortality; Spring, on the other hand, is about the final breaking of a true spring after a long, wearying dalliance with unending life.
Now for the spoilers….
Spring is Beauty and the Beast with Beauty as the beast. Louise is a chimera, both genetic and mythic, who has always lost herself in her loveless loves. But the difference between tragedy and poignancy is that tragedy reveals the now-hopeless death of potential or the irresolvable bleak paradox, and that’s not Spring: the horror is backgrounded, not foregrounded. Ultimately, she and the grieving Evan find a little eddy of peace and eternity adjacent to the indifferent forces of nature that claimed her family and toys with her in a parody of reproduction.
In connection with the instincts, I often think of the passage from Kings where Elijah is on the Mount to encounter God: “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” For many religious people, Darwin’s theory is a challenge because they must imagine transcendent God to be in the wind or the earthquake, or following the symbols in Spring, the volcanic eruption or the implacable genes, and because God must necessarily be good and omnipotent, there aren’t any impersonal forces, and everything you do has a simple moral meaning that can be codified.
Well, they’re entitled to their religious view but not to facts, and they are wrong that the facts of evolution are not the facts. An atheist sees their error at the level of facts and dismisses both their literalist conception of God, just as I do, and the whole God project, which I do not. I’ve got a weirder take on God: not in the wind or the earthquake, but next to it, like Louise and Evan. Suffering and loss await them as surely as they do for the old man who has made a deity of his late wife, but he lives in bliss just as much as in grief for what she means to him (in a way that starkly contrasts the elderly and similarly obsessed but used-up minions of the creature in Let the Right One In). Ancient pagan and Christian iconography abound in Spring for good reason: the movie reaches for a statement on love and fertility at the highest level, and so is hugely ambitious for a quiet, low-budget “horror” feature.
At the end of Spring, the past two thousand years and the coming fifty or so converge in a fleeting expression of transcendence. Louise has found a love that she will neither dominate nor be lost in. Poignantly, I’d say, rather than tragically, they will grow old and die.
But there will be a baby.
*Tolkien, of course. I was thinking specifically of Arwen’s sacrifice to wed Aragorn and have children.