“Look at us. Running around, always rushed, always late… I guess that’s why they call it the human race. What we crave most in this world is connection. For some people it happens at first sight; it’s, “when you know, you know.” It’s fate working its magic. And that’s great for them. They get to live in a pop saw, ride the express train. But that’s not the way it really works. For the rest of us it’s a bit less romantic. It’s complicated and it’s messy. It’s about horrible timing and fumbled opportunities and not being able to say what you need to say when you need to say it. At least that’s the way it was for me.”
This is the opening narration of The Switch (2010), a movie that explores what it means to take control of your life. When things aren’t going the way you want them to, is it better to take charge? Or should you be still and at peace with the idea that something will happen for you eventually? The main characters of the story, Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) and Wally (Jason Bateman), are two best friends who couldn’t disagree more in this matter. While neurotic, pessimistic Wally tends to run when life makes big moves, Kassie is obsessed with making them herself. The story centers around her decision, as a woman in her thirties, to have a baby via artificial insemination. She has no partner, but is sick of waiting for life to give her one.
Wally tries to convince Kassie that people should only have so much control over their own lives, that humans can’t be trusted to take our lives into our own hands. But headstrong and stubborn Kassie has her mind set. She finds a great guy named Roland to serve as a sperm donor, and throws a party to celebrate the whole thing. Kassie has followed through with her decision, but at a certain point even she begins to doubt herself. At this moment, though, Wally recognizes her need and gives her his blessing. For the first time in the movie we see Kassie truly calm. “You get it,” she says, and we feel what Wally was saying in the beginning monologue- that all we really need is that human connection.
Let me pause for a moment and put something right out in the open: I understand that this is a romantic comedy. I understand that it’s a guy and a girl who are best friends, who clearly mean a lot to each other, and who are probably going to end up together. If you’ve figured it out by now, congratulations, you’re brilliant. But bear with me, because that’s not the point.
Soon Kassie is pregnant, and she leaves NYC and moves home to have the baby. Seven years go by and nothing changes for Wally; essentially his life goes on pause. Here we see two sides of the same coin: Kassie taking complete control over her life, and Wally sitting back and letting life simply happen at him, doing nothing to change it whatsoever. Neither one has found a relationship. Neither one has gotten that human connection. However, they do both use the time to grow; Kassie grows into motherhood, and Wally grows into a realization that this way of living isn’t working.
Finally, Kassie comes back with her son, Sebastian. The little guy is a weirdo: at six he’s a neurotic hypochondriac, tiny for his age. In fact, he has quite a bit in common with Wally- which is weird for Wally, who has no memory of the fact that seven years ago he blacked out and ended up switching his sperm for Roland’s, making Sebastian his child. Maybe weirdest of all, the kid has this fetish for picture frames. He collects them, but he keeps the stock photos, never replacing them with his own.
Let’s take a minute to look at this awesome metaphor. Picture frames symbolize the things that are important to us, the things we choose to remember in life. Sebastian, the combination of Wally and Kassie, collects these objects, representing the truth that- in their own ways- Wally and Kassie both want to make the most out of life. But Sebastian doesn’t fill the frames with his own memories. Instead, he keeps the stock photos. He’s remembering the memories of others. This symbolizes both Kassie’s and Wally’s inabilities to accept their own life; instead, they both attempt to move their lives in accordance with what other people deem right, either because they don’t know what they want or they can’t figure out how to get it. However, there’s also something beautiful about Sebastian’s keeping the stock photos; he appreciates them, even if it’s weird and different and, frankly, fake. Sebastian has this ability to notice the weird in life and take advantage of it, realizing that life isn’t what other people say it is. It’s what you say it is. Sebastian gets that, but Wally and Kassie have yet to understand.
When Kassie returns to New York she also reconnects with Roland, the official sperm donor, and the two end up dating, much to both Wally’s and Sebastian’s dislike. Roland symbolizes what life “should” be. Other than the fact that he should be the real sperm donor, he’s got blond hair and blue eyes, the perfect muscles, nothing but a smile all the time. He calls everything beautiful- Sebastian, Michigan, even Wally’s neuroticism. He always does the right thing. But there’s a reason I’ve seen this movie several times and can never remember his name, and it’s the same reason that Kassie can’t be with him in the end. He’s what life should be, but he’s not what it is. He’s too perfect; as much as he tries to get to know Sebastian, the two can’t mesh, and Roland cites the cause as Sebastian’s “rough edges.” Roland has no rough edges.
Fun fact: artists scratch up pieces of clay before putting them together, because that way they stick better. They do this for the same reason athletes wear cleats, horses have shoes, and tires have traction. It seems a little backwards, but rough edges make things- and people- stick together. When one side isn’t a little roughed up, the other just slides away. And people are the same. Our imperfections make us imperfect, but without them we wouldn’t be real people. Roland is perfect but he’s not real. And Wally, with all of his rough edges, is. That’s why, for Kassie, he sticks. Roland constantly repeats that everything is beautiful. The repeated line for Wally? “You get it.” He’s rough, but he gets her, and that’s more important.
Unfortunately, soon Roland proposes. He says lots of nice, vague things about how Kassie has the voice of an angel and how she’s made his life whole again. At this point, Wally has had enough.
“I’m not like you. You’re not afraid of anything, I’m afraid of everything. I can’t even take risks, you know, you said it. But nothing scares you, Kassie, and I love that about you.” He tells her the truth about Sebastian, and he tells her he loves her. She slaps him in the face and tells him to get out of her life, but we see in that moment that his messed up, guilt-ridden confession means so much more than Roland’s platitudes, because Wally pinpoints exactly the relationship between himself and Kassie in an honest and vulnerable and perfect way. Simply, she takes risks. He doesn’t. Kassie is always well-loved and always doing what she should, and Wally frankly isn’t understood by a lot of the world. But they get each other, and he loves her for it.
And so. Montage of Kassie, Wally, and Sebastian all going about life in the way that they should but gleaning no pleasure from it, until one unimportant day, when Kassie shows up at Wally’s work. “I couldn’t go through with it,” she says when Wally asks about Roland. Why?
He’s not you.
The premise of accidentally switching the sperm is clever, as is the fact that Kassie recognizes Wally’s quirks helps in the realization that really she loves him too. But what this movie is about more than anything else is the fact that life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and neither is love. Love may be infuriatingly invisible for years. People may have weird habits that drive us nuts. But what this movie shows us is that love isn’t about finding the perfect person, and life isn’t about having the perfect trajectory. It’s what Wally said- it’s all about finding that human connection. When you have that connection, all of a person’s stupid or annoying habits, and the broken road you took to finding them, become worth it. The bad stuff isn’t as important as the feeling that when you’re with that person, things are as they should be. So, yes, it’s funny that they actually get together only after six years of friendship and seven years of having a kid together who they didn’t know was their kid. But the most important part is when Kassie realizes that she doesn’t need the perfect life or the perfect man. “He’s not you.” Like all of us, she just needs somebody who understands her.
This isn’t a story in which the main characters change or “find” true love. This is a story in which people realize that life doesn’t have to look the same way for everyone, and we can only be happy when we’ve found our peace with that fact. In the beginning of the movie, Wally calls life a “human race.” Throughout the story we see characters who try to race toward life’s finish line, only to find out that they’re running in the wrong lane. It’s only right when it’s right for you, and at the end, Wally sums that up perfectly.
“Look at us. Running around, always rushed, always late… I guess that’s why they call it the human race. But sometimes it slows down just enough for all of the pieces to fall into place. Fate works its magic, and you’re connected. Every once in a while amid all the randomness something unexpected happens and it pushes us all forward. And the truth is, what I’m starting to think- what I’m starting to feel- is that maybe the human race isn’t a race at all.”