There is possibly nothing more famous about Hollywood romance than the happy ending – the moment where someone runs after someone else in the rain, or heedlessly runs through security at the airport, or says “Follow that cab” (that would be fun to say) and catches up to the other person just in time and delivers a declaration of love and everything is resolved.
So it’s to their credit that two of pop culture’s favorite romances in movies are two stories where the central couple doesn’t end up together at the end.
One, the 1942 movie “Casablanca,” is often called one of the best movies of all time and stars Humphrey Bogart as cynical club owner Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund. Rick and Ilsa met in Paris, just as the Nazis arrived to take over, and hit it off immediately. Rick asked her to leave the city with him and she agrees, but when the time comes to meet at the train station, she’s nowhere to be found. Cut to WWII-era Casablanca, where Rick serves drinks to desperate refugees who are trying to get to America, and one night… well, you know how it goes. “Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine.” Ilsa arrives at Rick’s with her husband, Victor, but she's still very clearly in love with Rick. Will Rick, who doesn't "stick his neck out for nobody,” betray Victor and take Ilsa for himself?
At the end, he almost fools you – until that famous plane is behind them and Rick convinces Ilsa to go with Victor so Victor will have the heart to carry on with his importance resistance work that might help topple the Nazis.
The other movie is also called one of the best of all time, though perhaps not ranked quite as high (it does have the distinction of coming out in 1939, often called the best year ever for movies). “Gone with the Wind,” based on Margaret Mitchell’s hugely popular novel, follows spoiled Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh), who gets a rude awakening when the Civil War begins and she’s forced to fight tooth and nail for the survival of those she loves against the forces of war and, later, poverty. Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) is a sarcastic blockade runner who recognizes in Scarlett a similar lack of morals and falls in love with her almost as soon as he meets her.
For movie viewers, the love story between Scarlett and Rhett is almost throw-something-at-the-TV frustrating. Scarlett doesn’t love Rhett for a long time, but when she finally begins to, it’s just when he withdraws, believing that she’ll never fall in love with him. He makes an overture; she takes it for sarcasm. She tries to reach out; he thinks she’s pitying him.
It all culminates in the famous last scene, when Rhett says he’s done with her forever. Where will Scarlett go? What will she do? “Frankly, my dear…” Well, you know that one, too.
Scarlett’s determined at the end to get him back. Does she? Some hope so.
It may not be violins and endings in the pouring rain, but when two of Hollywood’s best love stories are ones where the two characters are going their separate ways by the end – and we still love them – you know their writers must have done something right.