Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
Hey, it's Valentine's Week! And even if you're not out with your significant other on Thursday night, you can still appreciate a good love story, particularly one that's surrounded by the genre trappings we've all come to appreciate. We need love stories to humanize all the theatrics, to make sure human beings aren't lost among the stars.
There might be all sorts of sci-fi craziness going on in these movies, but we're guessing the moments you remember the most are the smaller, more intimate ones.
Upstream Color (2013)
After making Primer, one of the century's most cerebral and puzzling sci-fi joints, you'd be forgiven for assuming writer-director-star Shane Carruth wasn't a big softie. And yet his emotionally devastating follow-up film is very much about two lost souls picking up the pieces of their shattered lives while they fall in love.
Upstream Color resists easy interpretation, but as we watch Jeff (Carruth) and Kris (Amy Seimetz) unscramble what happened to them, the movie becomes a prickly, fascinating treatise on how relationships become a way for us to rewrite and repair the past. Who knew the man behind Primer could craft something so beautiful and tender?
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Some of Hollywood's best love stories — think Casablanca — don't have happy endings. That's certainly true with the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy. At first, rakish Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and spirited Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) seem ill-suited for one another. But as the attraction (and suspense) builds, they can't help but fall for one another.
We've been to weddings where the bride and groom do a variation on the "I love you"/"I know" exchange from The Empire Strikes Back as part of their vows, sealing their love in carbonite. But for our money, the film's most romantic moment comes during that first kiss.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Tim Burton has never been known for great love stories, but he stumbled across a terrific one here, with Johnny Depp's eponymous lawn-cutter and Winona Ryder's winsome Kim. The reason this works is that in Burton's nightmare cookie-cutter suburbia, Kim is as much an outcast as Edward is. She doesn't just see Edwards as sensitive and different: she sees him as an escape. It's why having the film end with her as an old woman feels like a victory: she did make it out, and it was because of him.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
You might not think of this as a science-fiction film, but the Oscar-winning screenplay's central conceit — about a complicated procedure in which technology allows us to erase our most unpleasant memories — feels pulled directly from Philip K. Dick. But with all the madness going on in this film, it's the ending that breaks our heart — and even gives us hope — every time. Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet) are listening to themselves, on tape, tell all the horrible stories about each other, and yet, despite it all, they decide their initial attraction is worth pursuing. All evidence to the contrary, they embrace giving themselves another try. If that isn't love, what is?
He's a lonely trash-compactor robot. She's a high-tech interstellar probe. Together, WALL-E and EVE form the heart of this Oscar-winning Pixar marvel, and its most swoon-worthy moment is scored to composer Thomas Newman's "Define Dancing," which finds the two droids floating through space together.
In that sequence, WALL-E evokes the gracefulness of a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical — with more than a dash of Charlie Chaplin silent comedy. Sci-fi films aren't often thought of as being romantic, but director Andrew Stanton found the sort of poetry and wonder that Stanley Kubrick conjured up in 2001 while adding a human heartbeat.
Which is funny to say since we're talking about two robots. But their love transcends their metallic bodies. If things can work out for these two crazy kids, maybe there's hope for the rest of us.