School of Communication

July 01, 2010

Romantic, platonic, or twisted? Northwestern University students study triangle relationships

Team Edward or Team Jacob? Why do the millions of readers and movie-goers—many waiting in line to see the new Twilight film this week—have very real opinions about fictional characters?

The romantic triangle is a story engine that fires the imagination, says Northwestern University School of Communication professor Laura Kipnis.

Kipnis, the author of The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability and Against Love: A Polemic, teaches in the radio/television/film department at Northwestern. This past spring she led a writing and production class on romantic triangles.

The class had a lot to draw on from popular culture. Romantic triangles make good movies. They make good books. They make good gossip.

Jen, Brad, and Angelina. Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and Camilla Parker-Bowles. Scarlett O'Hara fought another woman for Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. In Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart pined for Ingrid Berman while she was on the arm of another man. Kipnis's class watched Fatal Attraction, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, and Woody Allen's Match Point.

"It's such a plot motor," Kipnis said. "It generates all sorts of narrative possibilities. It's an opportunity for students to consider their own ideas about subjects like monogamy and fidelity, whether love and desire can persist over time, why people who are in couples stray."

In addition to watching films, students in Kipnis' class also read Stephen Mitchell's book Can Love Last, a book Kipnis says raises philosophical questions about love and intimacy.

The class began with "heavily plotted films" such as romantic-triangle murder plots, and then moved on to more psychological explorations. "I tried to include films of different genres, with different sorts of moral positions and characters," Kipnis said.

Later in the quarter, students wrote their own romantic triangle scripts or worked with existing student-written scripts to produce films. Seniors Warren Lentz and Daniel Boddicker decided to co-direct a film based on a script Boddicker had already written, titled Schatze and Esther Go Bowling. Junior Adam Docksey, in a parallel production class taught by Erik Gernand, joined the team to produce the script, re-titled Shuttlecocked, a story about two badminton-playing sisters, Schatze and Esther, who end up in a love triangle with Archie, the boy next door.

"Tensions rise as both girls have crushes on Archie, and after Schatze tells Esther that she isn't wanted, Esther strikes back by launching the shuttlecock into Schatze's eye," Boddicker explained. "Archie rushes to her aid and turns his back on Esther, which causes her to enter a violent rampage. Soon enough, the carnage ends with everyone unconscious on a beautiful, sunny day."

School of Communication students Angela Gould, senior, Hannah Kopen, freshman, and Warren Lentz, senior, played the roles of Schatze, Esther, and Archie.

Boddicker said the most enjoyable aspect of the Kipnis's class was the freedom they were given in creating their scripts.

"While we went with a straight-forward romantic triangle between three people, others took a different route, such as one project about a woman, a man, and his computer," he said, explaining that the class made him realize that just about any story is a triangle and about love in some way.

"One is heading toward the direction of another until a third crosses the path and messes everything up," he said. "This could be people, jobs, places, or anything, and love enters the picture either in a romantic or platonic sense, or even a completely twisted sense of love."

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