Love Actually: Part 3

Sarah and Karl: Doomed From the Start

This is probably one of the saddest storylines in the movie. It’s interesting the way it plays out, because the focus is on Sarah, and her problematic crush on Karl. Karl hardly says anything, and is mainly there to be hot manly eye-candy…and oddly enough, he never makes any romantic moves toward Sarah, despite his own interest in her, instead waiting for her to come to him (he does ask her to dance at the party, but not until near the end, when he’s sure she’s not going to ask him). I’m not sure what this implies…insecurity on Karl’s part? Role reversal?

The crux here is the scene where Karl brings her home (to her place, note) and they start to go to bed together (at her initiation, note), and just when things are getting hot and heavy…her cell rings. Bam. And then she answers it. BAM. And then, for the piece de resistance, she tells her mentally disturbed brother (on the other end) that she’s not busy. bam. The look on Karl’s face…I think he literally flinches at this point.

Long story short, the budding romance is dead. And in fact, I think it was stillborn…from the film’s point of view, there is no way this could have had a happy ending.

Now this says lots of things. One, it points out that this relationship is (as far as viewers are concerned) entirely based on Sarah’s conflict between her brother and her love life. Karl’s problems (if any) are never dealt with…he’s presented as a “perfect man”, handsome, successful, eminently available but not pushy. While in some ways this is a female empowerment thing (putting the path of the relationship in her hands), it seems like it was only done to screw her over…hmmm, should she break Karl’s heart and take care of her brother, or should she hurt her poor crazy brother’s feelings by ignoring him? That’s a nice catch-22 there, isn’t it? Two, how it plays out: she chooses the brother. While there’s something admirable about caring for one’s ill relatives, you’d have to admit, having a relationship with Karl is likely to be a lot more rewarding to her personally than always being there for her crazy brother. This kind of reminds me of Purtek’s recent post on the mother-martyr syndrome…how women are expected to be all self-sacrificing for their family. At the end, we get a sad little scene of Sarah with her brother in the mental hospital, and yes, it’s kind of heartwarming to know that she’s willing to take care of her brother…but why does it have to cost her any shot at personal love and happiness? I mean, she can hold down a job (and presumably, friendships), why not a relationship? Is her brother going to off himself if she’s not available 24/7? For that matter, would this have worked out better if she had started by trying to involve herself with Karl in a non-sexual way, rather than jumping straight to bed with him, when she must have known she’d be interrupted? Was this whole story just about setting this poor woman up for failure?

It’s a sad story. But while it’s sad for both of them (and hell, the brother too), I think it’s sadder for her. Karl can go find some other woman. Sarah’s going to have this problem with any guy she meets.


  1. says

    This one breaks my heart, because to some degree, I’ve been there. I had an ill parent for a decade- pretty much from the start of my “adult” life- and having relationships at the same time was a big damn problem. To the point where after the last one I had ended, I gave up on having any more until after my father was dead. It was, and is, too hard to juggle a needy/ill family member AND a new relationship with someone who hasn’t been there and doesn’t understand why they don’t get to be the number one in your life, why you have to drop everything to take care of someone who can’t take care of himself. Maybe it would have been different had I dated someone in the same boat, but no 20something guys have had ill relatives they had to deal with all the time, in my experience. Heck, only a few of my female friends ever had.

    Honestly, she just can’t win. She’s married to her brother, she’s all he’s got, he’ll be her burden for life until he manages to kill himself. To choose a romance would mean she would have to put the boyfriend first (or else be with someone who doesn’t mind being second, but who would want that?), and then there’s the guilt crashing down on your head if brother decides to commit suicide that night if she doesn’t answer that one call.

    Anyway…*sigh* it’s sad, but true. I can’t argue with that.

    As for holding down a job and friendships, we don’t know too much about her friend life, but she’s got an awfully tolerant job to let her constantly be on the cell phone making personal calls.

  2. says

    For what it’s worth, I know a few women who’ve taken care of an ill parent or relative – including a girl who dropped out of high school to take care of her mother. Most of them have mentioned to me that they have brothers or other male relatives who could help but don’t. And I get the impression most of the family supports this arrangement because (thanks to social conditioning) they grasp that the males “have responsibilities” and “limited time” but women are never entitled to not have enough time to take care of other people.

  3. scarlett says

    In my family, my father’s parents both have major health issues and it’s the daughters (my aunts) that are ‘too busy’, but I think Betacandy has a point. I also think there’s an element of women meant to being the nurturing ones, so to stand up and say, no, I want my own life, someone else carry the burden is a henious betrayal of everything womanhood represents. (This, in case it wasn’t immediately obvious, is an attitude I sense, not one that I share.) I wonder if the storyline was reversed, if Karl was Karen, an attractive, easygoing, available woman and Sarah was Sam, a man tied down to a mentally ill sibling, would the story make as much sense? Or would we be scratching our heads asking ‘why would a guy make a sacrifice like that?’

  4. says

    Scarlett, that’s a good point about the gender reversal. My guess is that Karen would fall in love with Sam’s devotion to his sibling and be willing to come second just to be with His Wonderfulness. Just a guess – movie women always seem to be a lot more giving in romances than the men are.

    Which reinforces several ugly stereotypes/tropes: that women who demand the same level of attention in a relationship as men are “selfish princesses”, and it’s tremendously generous for a man to take care of even his own children, whereas it’s expected of women.

  5. says

    Coincidently, I just re-watched this before your series of posts began. I think now what I thought the first time through– Karl was a jerk and I seriously doubt that Sarah would have been better off ignoring her brother to spend time with him. If Karl’s ego was so fragile he couldn’t be understanding and supportive about Sarah’s self-imposed responsibilities, then she’s better off without him.

    Honestly, you ignore the fact that a woman has a crush on you for two years. So completely ignore it that you know nothing about her. Then, when you discover (one of) the reason(s) she’s been so shy about approaching you… all you can think to say is, “Forget about this guy you’ve known all your life and focus on me?”

    Excuse me, but I call @sshattery on that behavior.

  6. says

    Re: what if Karl was Karen and Sarah was Sam

    For one thing, there’s practically no way Sam would be interrupted in the middle of sex with a hot woman by his mentally ill brother. Or if it DID by some chance happen, it would make her little heart go all melty at how devoted he is (wouldn’t hurt her feelings at all), and THEN they’d have (uninterrupted) passionate lovemaking.

    And this pattern would be repeated…in general, the caretaker role would be seen as burdensome, but ultimately something Sam could deal with, and certainly not enough to make Karen not love him (or leave him not enough time to love her properly). Whereas in this case, it’s something Sarah can BARELY deal with, and certainly not leaving enough time for other stuff.

  7. KitKat says

    I think Karl was a little too self-absorbed? I think Sarah kinda asked to be dumped? I think the mentally-ill brother probably isn’t as mentally ill as he though he was?? Maybe he needed A LOT of love, but that kind of love actually was a crutch for him to better his own life?

    I think for all 3 of them, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way that they expected love to be something that it wasn’t.

    Karl expected love by Sarah dropping down everything to be down on hands and knees to make love to him.

    Sarah expected love in a sense that she already wanted herself to be rejected. How about answer the phone and say, “Honey, I AM somewhat busy right now. Although I love you and I can’t call on the pope, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can?” I mean, what if she was on the toilet and her brother called? Would she postpone wiping her butt?

    The brother- why would he even raise his arm to beat her up? It almost to me, seemed like the mental illness he has was brought upon himself by relying too much on the sister. I still kinda feel bad for dissing on the guy, but hello. If he was that incoherent, then how come he *knew* to always dial her number?

    In all honesty, I was really heartbroken about their story the MOST, because they all had SUCH potential.

    I agree- the romance is stillborn and the brother’s condition is also stillborn. Maybe I’m an optimist, but if this were reality, I think if they all had better communication skills, they would all attain a fulfilling life. Then again, this is a movie right? At least I can say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • says

      KitKat: I haven’t seen the movie, but just wanted to clarify one tiny thing. I believe it’s usually a fallacy to think someone isn’t so much mentally ill as he just needs more love or discipline or something. Very often both conditions coincide – mentally ill people can be overly indulged by family like anyone else, for example – but it’s not an either/or thing. He could be every bit as mentally ill as he thought he was, AND the answer still be that his sister needed to learn a new way of dealing with him (possibly for both their sakes). So I’m not saying you’re wrong so much as… well, I just imagined how someone with a relative like that might read the comment and felt some clarification might be helpful. (And if someone knows better than I do, feel free to correct me!)

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