An emotional exploration into the true meaning of love, not the feeling itself but the very endurance of it, whether this feeling that fills your heart is canalized toward a person, an animal
or an addiction
Like many Cassavetes' movies, "Love Streams" provides more interrogations than answers, and while I couldn't determine what the director's intentions were, I thought the film's was the portrayal of two tormented hearts: Robert, a trashy alcoholic writer incapable to show affection and his sister Sarah, a divorced mother drown in her awkward obsessions for love and love be loved. Two polar opposites who'd learn lessons from each other in the movie-defining moment when Robert, witnessing the emotional downfall of his sister, grab her in his arms with a fierce tenderness, a moment of pure emotion beautifully conveyed by the film's poster.
As usual with Cassavetes, characters are as unique and specific as their feelings. It's extraordinary how Cassavetes' films paradoxically embody the very aspect that differentiate between movies and reality: the absence of archetypes, no plot, no typical characters, all of his films are a tribute to the total independence of human's spirit from any attempt to translate them into plot devices, and "Love Streams" is the fitting masterpiece of the champion of independent film-making that concludes one of the most fascinating series of cinematic character studies that started with "Shadows", foreshadowing the coming of the American New Wave, and that reached its pinnacle with the unanimously applauded "A Woman Under the Influence". Indeed, it's only after having watched the other films that I became aware that "Love Streams" was the most beautiful statement to Cassavetes' work
the epitaph of an artist haunted by an imminent death.
Sarah's torment mirrors the condition of Mabel from "A Woman Under the Influence", as a mother incapable of being herself because of her alienation by a total desire to be loved. On the other hand, Robert reflects the character of Cosmo in "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" in his dedication to his occupation, his constant womanizing habits and the "Husbands" syndrome in the many contradictions that inhabits his mind and prevents him for being a good father. The presence of a child also reminds of the poor kids in "Influence" or "Gloria", and the total incapability to be educated or tutored by so-called adults as themselves happen to act with the same level of child-like cowardice by escaping from their responsibilities and picking the easy way. Indeed, Robert lets his kid have a beer or discover his lifestyle (including going to Vegas or hanging out with girls) while Sarah, in the most memorable scene, buys his brother animals so he can have 'a presence' to love.
These unsettling moments highlight the insecurity of the protagonists their incapacity to control their emotions, yet their lucidity on their desires. Sometimes it worked like in the light-hearted "Minnie and Moskowitz", sometimes it didn't like in "Shadows", "Faces" and "Husbands". Satisfying, frustrating, embarrassing or even infuriating, the key in Cassavetes' characters is that they don't tell a story, but the slices of their lives echo the eternal duality of what we are and what we want to be, our social beings and emotional ones, and maybe the source of happiness is to reconcile one another, like in "Opening Night". I'm not trying to make random connections between "Love Streams" and other Cassavetes' films but to show how the Artist never changed and this film is probably the truest and most complete expression of all the eternal conflict between social pressure and emotions.
And on that level, even the title, beyond its poetic resonance, perfectly describes the painful beauty of love. The word 'streams' refers to a movement, that follow either a linear or tortuous road, it kind of reminds of Fellini's strada: love as a road, a journey between hearts that are mostly chaotic in Cassavetes' film, streams being above any social labels. Being a parent is not loving like a parent and Cassavetes never take those labels for granted; love is too much an abstraction to be defined by a social status. In her desperate attempt to make her daughter and husband Seymour Cassel laugh, in a powerful improvised scene, Gena Rowlands shows more what it is to be a mother, than by claiming it in a meeting, and through his journey with his boy, in his tragic clumsiness, there is a part of inner truth in Robert's fatherhood, that the kid finally perceives when he shouts "you're my father".
This is what love is about, it's action. And as most Cassavetes' film, "Love Streams" is guided only by actions, and the only genuine emotions that don't need actions to be proved are between Sarah and Robert, as they are so close they don't need to play a role together, the intimacy between them echoes the same intimacy between Cassavetes and his audience, who don't expect answers or entertainment, only the closeness to the truth of life. Yet the film feels more achieved, more mature on a technical level, like an allegory of Cassavetes' artistry, as if he tried to overcome a fascinating paradox that defined his genius: being an Artist, loved by average viewers, while making films that could only appeal to a certain category.
Cassavetes was no elitist, yet his movies divided, he loved people, yet the reciprocity is more uncertain and maybe he tried to make a more 'normal' film so 'more' people would love him
but perfectly lucid that you can't do something just to please without becoming a patronizing impostor, and the reason we love his films is that he always remained true to his own nature, and desire of human authenticity.
That's how real Artists are, and "Love Streams" is the best tribute to Cassavetes' genius.