It hit me while I was watching a movie about love, actually. Have you ever noticed how an incredible amount of post-80‘s romantic comedies include, at some point, an airport romance scene?
With several tales of love at first sight, or love at second sight, awkward apologies followed by last-minute love declarations and sincere proposals before planes take off: this can’t be denied, there is something of an airport mystery in the air…
The sharpest among us can detect it creeping into the plot before the second half of the movie: a promotion in sight? Thinking of moving to another city? Dreams of travelling? You don’t live in the same city as your potential loved one? Say no more: here comes the airport scene. A-list actress, start packing your Prada suitcase, you are about to meet the man of your dreams…
What about you, viewer?
Are your expectations of romance slightly heightened when you are in an airport? Are you more alert once you pass the security gates, while you wait in the boarding room, scrutizing your fellow flying companions? Do you secretely hope a handsome stranger will sit next to you on the plane, only to be oddly disappointed when an old lady takes place beside you? Very much like what Kate Winslet experiences in The Holiday (2004) in fact.
I believe all of us have, at some point or another, had an airport fantasy of the sort. And there is no need to blush at such unrealistic daydreams when a whole generation of screenwriters has been shaping our expectations of romance.
Here are a few examples:
You can find it at the beginning of movies, in Sleepless in Seattle (1993) for instance, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan cross each other’s paths but will not actually meet until the end.
In When Harry Meets Sally (1989): The second time they chance upon each other is on a plane, followed by a scene where Billy Crystal stalks Meg Ryan across the airport.
Jerry Maguire (1996)! Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger meet in an aiport.
You can also, and mostly find it at the end, in a final outburst of passion and rekindled flames, like in Garden State (2004). Or Love, Actually (2003), the movie opens and closes at the airport, with a tiny meant-to-be endearing version of a grown-up love declaration: a kid kisses his school sweatheart goodbye after flying through security (aah! The motion pictures… Have they actually tried to take a long distance flight after 9/11?)
Fans of Friends will also recall the last season where Ross rushes to the airport to stop Rachel from moving to Paris…
But surely the winner is the box office King himself, Steven Spielberg, who sets his entire movie The Terminal (2004) – as the title indicates – in an airport. Because why just put one airport romance scene when we can make it all happen in there?
So what is it about airports? The sense of adventure it provides? A feeling of taking off to the unknown? People from all over the world united in a small microcosm?
In a more existential note perhaps, it reminds us of the importance of travel in finding the self, which can also be found in our relationships with others.
For my part, and in all seriousness, I have one theory. I sincerely blame it on Casablanca. 1942 gave light to a masterpiece that was to be remembered by following directors and screenwriters as one of the most beautiful love stories on screen. Are screenwriters unconsciously and eternally trying to rewrite
happy airport endings to make up for the sad ending of the classic?
Are these recurrent airport romance scenes a way for them to exort the demons of their artistic youth?
The truth, I am afraid, will never be known, and aiport romance remains a box-office winner mystery. But let me just say this, *SPOILER ALERT*….
there is a reason why Ingrid Bergman leaves in the end: it makes it a better movie.
P.S.: There is also such a thing as “Train romance”, but let’s keep it for another post!