Romantic dramas (e.g., The Bridges of Madison County) usually include heavy dramatic circumstances such as war, disease, poverty, or some other situation that keep lovers from getting together. Light romantic comedies (e.g., When Harry Met Sally) usually present attractive young men and women meeting cute, falling in love, facing an obstacle, and then overcoming that obstacle. The new breed of gross-out romantic comedies, which feature crude references to body parts, body functions, body hair, and all matters of sexuality, include just about anything associated with the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow (There’s Something About Mary and Walk Hard, for instance).
Defining The Dark Romance
A fourth category, the dark romance, brings its own set of characteristics to the romantic genre. Although elements of dark romances may overlap with the other three varieties, they provide a unique form of entertainment. Dark elements such as dysfunction, childhood trauma, mental illness, and death depicted in an ironic or comical way may intrude upon the ongoing romance.
In many romantic comedies, lovers are kept apart because of a love triangle in which one additional person intrudes on the relationship. Perhaps the lovers overcome a series of bad relationships or an ethnic stereotype or resistance from parents. In any event, once the problem is solved, the lovers are assured to live happily ever after.
In dark romances, things don’t go as smoothly. Couples often endure disturbing conditions, suffer great physical and/or emotional pain, combat supernatural elements, and may be mismatched lovers whom others refuse to accept as a couple. Rather than always living happily ever after, lovers in a dark romance may end up living separately from their true loves, may have uncertain futures, or may not live at all.
Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense
Although director Alfred Hitchcock is known as the “Master of Suspense,” he also mastered the dark romance in which unlikely couples meet during times of intense danger, supernatural events, or emotional crises. These are not typical boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love stories.
For example, in Spellbound, a psychiatrist falls in love with an amnesia patient trying to remember a murder. In Vertigo, a retired policeman with a fear of heights falls in love with a suicidal young woman. In The Birds, a rich socialite and a mamma’s boy endure attacks by crazed birds in a small coastal town.
Similarly, all is not well in Marnie. In this film, a psychologically damaged woman is romanced by a man determined to help her. In North by Northwest, a suave playboy meets a mysterious woman on a train who has an ulterior motive for getting romantically involved with him. Most of Hitchcock’s other films also fall into the dark romance category in which dangerous or supernatural elements loom over the would-be happy couple.
Recommended Dark Romance Films
In addition to Hitchcock’s films, the following recommended dark romances offer a sampling of romantic coupling that defies typical boy-meets-girl scenarios.
Harold and Maude (1971)
A young para-suicidal man falls in love with a quirky old woman he meets at a funeral.
Director: Hal Ashby
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
A synthetic young man falls in love with a shallow girl in his cul de sac.
Director: Tim Burton
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Based on the classic novel, a vampire entices young women for a midnight rendezvous.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Director: Tim Burton
While investigating decapitation murders, a constable falls in love with a young witch.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Director: Craig Gillespie
A disturbed young man romances a life-sized synthetic doll that he purchases over the Internet.