I just watched Serendipity.
What a movie. John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, the dad from American Pie and the best friend from Never Been Kissed. 2001. New York City. And, let me say it again, John Cusack. What a guy.
This movie can be seen either as a light in the dark, a supreme giver of hope no matter what, or as a really great way to stretch our expectations so far that reality simply can never catch up. It’s about Jonathan and Sara, who meet one fateful winter night and connect instantly. Sara is the ultimate believer in fate and destiny, and she decides that if the two of them are meant to be together, they shouldn’t force it; it will happen. She writes her info inside a book, he writes his onto a $5 bill, and both items go out into the world. Jonathan and Sara part, and they don’t see each other for seven years. At that point, because it’s a movie, they’re both about to be married, they both end up taking cross-country flights to find one another, and they both come so close to seeing each other only to have just near misses. Of course, they eventually find each other. Thank goodness.
This movie seems to be about trusting fate, believing in destiny, and these two star-crossed lovers. But, really, Jonathan and Sara only spend about ten minutes of screen time actually together. In truth, I don’t think Serendipity is really about Jonathan and Sara. It’s about the power of believing in some greater order enough to simply trust yourself.
It’s almost backwards, really. Seven years after meeting, both Jonathan and Sara haven’t let go of the thought of each other. Despite that fact, they each continue with life as it is, because life as it is is “right” and acceptable. Life as it has happened to them makes their partners and their families happy, it makes their work lives make sense, and it’s rooted in reality. Both Jonathan and Sara continue along their less-than-fulfilling paths because they don’t trust fate; fate is intangible and unproven, and, frankly, it has let them down, unlike their perfectly adequate lives. Truthfully, if they both were to go after what they wanted, that would mean admitting that they want something kind of crazy. And, even worse, it would mean that they might get hurt.
And yet, when it comes down to it and Jonathan is about to marry Halley and Sara is about to marry Lars, they both freak out. They both take one last chance to do something about that brush with destiny that’s been gnawing at them for seven years. Jonathan and Sara show us that, in other words, believing in destiny simply means trusting what you want rather than accepting the way that the world is “supposed” to work. Believing in destiny is about going for what you truly want, even if it’s scary, because otherwise there’s no point to life.
Jonathan’s best friend Dean sums it up best after he and Jonathan fly to San Francisco hours before the wedding to finally track down Sara. They see Sara’s sister and another man through her house’s window, and it’s been a few years and Sara and her sister look very much alike from afar, so Jonathan and Dean believe that it’s her and that they’ve finally failed. They lay on the ground in misery outside Sara’s house, pondering what they’re doing here. After all, if fate had wanted Jonathan and Sara to be together, would Sara really be with another man? “Maybe,” Dean says, “We’re laying here because you don’t want to be standing somewhere else.”
And that’s the whole point. Jonathan is not calling off his wedding because he believes so strongly in fate that he’ll do anything to find Sara rather than marrying Halley. He’s calling off his wedding because he doesn’t want to be married. It took an extreme shaking up of his world to make him take a look at what he truly wants and, fate or no fate, he doesn’t want to marry Halley. It takes a great deal of courage to admit that sort of thing, to admit that what you thought you wanted was wrong, even after it’s all set in motion and admitting it does mean maybe hurting someone. But, as Dean also reminds Jonathan, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”
And so Jonathan calls off the wedding- not because he believes fate might finally deliver Sara to him, but because he has finally learned to listen to his own heart. He wanders to the ice skating rink where he first spent time with Sara and he lays there. He has just called off a wedding, broken someone’s heart, spent a great deal of money flying across the country in what ended up to be a devastating pursuit, and now he’s sitting alone in the cold remembering someone he only knew for a few hours seven years ago.
But there is absolutely nothing he would rather be doing.
He is miserable and cold and he has no idea what’s next for him, but for the first time, he is answering to himself. Trusting that he doesn’t have all the answers has freed him, because now he doesn’t need a life in which everything is spoken for. Instead, he can lay on the ice contentedly, reveling in the freedom that life isn’t about doing everything “right,” but instead about simply being the person you exist as, because there’s a reason you exist to be that person. Your purpose is to be you, to be the most sincere you that you can be, and to have faith that life will figure out the rest. There’s no way that we mere humans can understand the whole big picture, so we have to do the next best thing: understand the very, very small picture, the one inside ourselves. Once Jonathan finally attunes to himself, he is, probably for the first time since he met Sara, at peace.
Jonathan and Sara’s story is not meant to teach us to live blindly because the universe will figure out the rest. Instead it teaches us not to fight against our hearts and what they’re saying; if you live life without embracing your heart, what is the point? It’s the only heart you get. Trust that the world knows how to be, and that it will survive if you don’t live the perfectly acceptable cut-and-dry life. Instead, be content to be thought a little bit foolish. Follow your heart- even if that means laying in the cold and feeling miserable. You might find that that’s when you feel truly alive.
Serendipity is one of many movies about a couple of strangers finding each other in New York City. When Harry Met Sally, A Lot Like Love, An Affair to Remember, You’ve Got Mail… why do we love the idea of two people coming against all odds to find each other in a city so packed that faces can easily disappear? Because they remind us that each one of us is important. That each of us deserves to find ourselves, even in a world that moves so quickly that the faces blur and we can’t always see. These movies show us that sometimes the best thing we can find, even in a city as full as New York, is ourself.