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“Ruby Sparks”
Everyone dreams of the ideal mate, right? What if you could just create that special person any way you wanted? How fun would that be?
Calvin (Paul Dano) is pretty much the perfect geek. He’s written one very successful book, 10 years ago, while still in high school. He has just enough money to live comfortably on his royalties and occasionally cash in on his reputation, but he’s not really doing anything constructive. He has a raging case of writer’s block. The only girlfriend he ever had broke up with him. Really, the only other person in his daily life is his brother (Chris Messina), who’s married with a little kid, and his therapist (Elliot Gould), who’s encouraging him to write about something that excites him, like his recurring dream.
Calvin dreams about this “ideal” girl, the one who speaks softly to him and smiles sweetly, and where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day. Suddenly the writer’s block has vanished, and Calvin feverishly fills in a back story: born in Dayton, Ohio, natural artist, red-haired and purple-stockinged, speaks French, gets up perky every day, cooks wonderfully, constant companion, loves him, loves his dog.
In fact, Calvin’s imagination about her is so vivid and intense and specific that he actually wills her into being (we’ll ignore the deistic implications for now). Suddenly one day she just appears in his kitchen. At first, Calvin is shocked out of his socks, but later, when he realizes that other people see her, also, he is astounded into accepting the impossible idea that she is here, she is real, and she’s perfect.
Calvin just couldn’t be happier. There’s no need to write any more, because he doesn’t have to invent his fantasy, he’s living it, so he locks away the manuscript. Calvin and Ruby (Zoe Kazan, who, ironically, wrote the screenplay) are blissfully intertwined, doing everyday tasks gleefully, making love with joyful abandon, and just reveling in each other’s company.
Alas, there’s a snake in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3). No, it’s not about forbidden fruit, it’s just that Ruby Sparks, once she becomes a real woman, begins to think and feel and act like….a real woman. That is, she does not wish to be imprisoned by Calvin’s possessiveness. She begins to want to go out and take art classes. Or take a part-time job in a coffee house. Anything to meet some other people. Yes, she’s getting a little bored and restless with this relational isolation. Calvin, at first, is so myopic about his own needs that he doesn’t understand why she’s suddenly become moody. He tries acceding, but misses the way they were before. Except now, the tighter he tries to hold on to her, the more she wants to wriggle away, saying she can’t breathe.
In desperation, Calvin unlocks the hidden manuscript, and writes changes to Ruby that will somehow prevent her from leaving him, and assure her undivided loyalty. But then he finds that having a puppet on a string doesn’t exactly fulfill him, either. (Insert here the vast theological discussion regarding divine sovereign will versus human free will.) Just because he can make her twirl in circles and snap her fingers doesn’t mean that she will stay with him because she wants to, and love him because she chooses to.
Talk about star-crossed lovers. Throw in some well-placed secondary performances by Antonio Banderas and Annette Bening (as Calvin’s parents) and a believable rendition of the neurotic nerd by Paul Dano, and you have a very unique little narcissistic love story.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas