As the title implies, "Dear John" is a film of romance lost. But that simple explanation is not enough to describe Lasse Halstrom's (Cider House Rules) heartfelt love story of Army Special Forces Sgt. John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried).
Set primarily in Charleston, South Carolina, John meets Savannah when she needs a heroic male to assist her. Jumping to her rescue, John reveals himself to be a courageous yet troubled person who captures her attention and eventually her heart. In a whirlwind romance lasting only the two weeks of spring break, John and Savannah soon pledge their undying love and begin a long distance relationship through hand-written letters. This sets the stage for the predictable angst to come.
Although love is always tenuous, our failures in relationships often come from circumstances beyond our control but about which we make definitive decisions. This occurs when John decides to extend his tour with the Army after the attacks of 9/11. Having promised Savannah that he would soon be out of harm's way and by her side, his decision has major effects on their relationship.
But it is not only external forces that impact our relationships. Based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (Message in a Bottle), the internal struggles and aspirations of both John and Savannah also come into play. One of these is the conflict between John's loyalty to Savannah and to his squadron. Another is Savannah's love for John and a young autistic boy named Alan Wheddon (Braedon Reed at age 6, and Luke Benward at age 14). Caring both for him and his father Tim (Henry Thomas), Savannah is willing to put herself and her relationships on the line to do so. This internal drive dramatically impacts her life and her relationship with John.
The nature of love is that it must be reciprocal and committed. A "Dear John letter" by definition is about a love that is neither reciprocated nor committed. This film tells a story that speaks to those moments in all of our lives where we experienced the loss of love.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Have you ever received a written communication to end a relationship? Did you feel disrespected because it wasn't in person? What did you do to communicate what you felt?
2. The decision to return to the war put John's relationship with Savannah in danger. Have you ever lost a relationship because of an external pressure that was placed on you or your lover?
3. The claim that Savannah makes about having "no choice" in doing what she did to John is difficult to understand. Do you agree with her claim or not? Why?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.