I had a dream last night: I am at a party with people I don’t know. At the party is an exotic girl with cool tattoos and short black hair. In conversation, the girl reveals she is a big fan of Houdini and the silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle. The girl suddenly does this performance art piece where she puts herself in a straight jacket, has a plastic bag tied over her head, is placed in a body bag which is then zipped up and lowered into a bathtub filled with ice water. She’s so capable, she can escape before she drowns. I think: Wow! After I woke up, I realized this improbable girl must be my soulmate. And now, the big question is: how do I find her?
Finding your soulmate is one of the most popular themes in Hollywood romances, mostly because we all know how hard it is to find another person who is in sync with your mojo. A person that “gets you.” You laugh at the same things, like the same movies, hate the same songs. The gargantuan difficulty of the search for your soulmate is the plot of hundreds of movies, but to name a few: Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Before Sunrise (1995), Serendipity (2001), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004), Sliding Doors (1998), and Amelie (2001). The people behind the OkCupid.com website ran data analysis on the eventual success of the couples meeting online at OkCupid, and surprisingly, the best predictor for a soulmate begins by asking them the question: “Do you like scary movies?” Successful couples agree on the answer about 75 percent of the time. So it seems predictive, or at least reflective.
That’s because movies are our collective psychic jungle. They are where dreams and reality blur. We don’t need shamans to feed us peyote and guide us into fantastic vision-quests any longer. We just easily plug into ultra-high def Hollywood fictions. And the movie jungle mirrors our inner search for self, success, excitement, and even true love. Anybody that sees filmic soulmates and true love in a movie starts to think: “Hey, I ought to find my soulmate!” That monkey-see, monkey-do aspect of movies is what makes them great propaganda machines, but humans have been enthralled by the idea of soulmates since Adam & Eve.
What we know about finding soulmates from Hollywood movies comes via a few simple rules:
1. The meeting of soulmates will not be easy. It will be dangerous and difficult, possibly fatal, but is still worth doing. See: Titanic (1997), William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996).
2. You will be called outside your normal boring life, on a heroic adventure and in this break from the humdrum normal world, the soulmate may be found. See: Stardust (2007), The Matrix (1999).
3. You and your soulmate may not recognize each other immediately. Often, one person may take a long time to catch on and eventually recognize their soulmate. See: Jerry Maguire (1996), Pretty Woman (1990).
4. It is worth any amount of labor, suffering, inconvenience, lying, effort, and/or humiliation to find your soulmate. See: When Harry Met Sally (1989), Wedding Crashers (2005).
Mostly, what I’ve learned from movies about soulmates is that I’m supposed to have one. But this is not without some danger: the soulmate situation can end badly.
At the end of Casablanca (1942), Humphrey Bogart forces his soulmate to leave him because he knows she’ll eventually regret it if she stays. Parting is deep sorrow, especially when the Nazis are waiting in the wings to kill you. Which is also what happens in The English Patient (1996). The male hero of that fateful love affair pleads for a lethal dose of morphine after his plane is shot down by Nazi anti-aircraft guns. Whether his unbearable pain is caused by the crash or a broken heart is unclear, but his wish is granted. Sometimes, it’s the woman who dies, leaving behind the man to mourn. In Moulin Rouge! (2001), Ewan McGregor ends up holding the bag of grief after soulmate Nicole Kidman succumbs to tuberculosis. Sometimes, the soulmate story in films is pure manipulation to make us feel sad. Because there is no greater emotion than the pain of love lost, especially when it’s soulmates who part. The ultimate message: love is always a big risk.
Me, I’m willing to take that risk. I know that one of the people reading this essay will recognize the tattooed Houdini-loving daredevil-girl in my dream as a person they know. It may come as a surprise. “Eric has perfectly described _____.” That reader will put two and two together, and magically connect my soulmate with me, Eric Coyote. I know this can happen, because things like this happen in Hollywood movies all the time. How great is that?