Some time ago, a friend said to my wife that she “had done well.” In my vain way, I thought she was paying my wife a compliment for her choice. But our friend was complimenting my wife on how she had changed me. This beautiful potentiality of human relationships lies at the heart of the British drama comedy One Day.
The date is July 15, 1988: Emma and Dex meet and find themselves immediately attracted to each other. That one day just happens to be the last day of college, and the beginning of the rest of their lives. One Day checks in with them on the same day every year to explore their relationship as it ebbs and flows over the course of two decades – as they live, work and fall in and out of love. Meticulous costume design, hair styles and make-up effectively capture aging characters and evolving cultural styles.
After college, Emma moves to London to become an author, and while Dex eventually heads overseas to teach English (and pursue women), they stay in regular contact. One year, Emma takes a holiday to visit him and hang out. They set a whole bunch of rules to prevent them from ending up doing something they might regret. They break most of them anyway and end up skinny-dipping in a pool by the sea. And in this moment Dex finally tells Emma what she wants to hear in the only way British people can – he fancies her. But, “The problem is” he says “I fancy pretty much everyone.”
And everything else it seems. As Dex works on a late night TV show, he also slides into alcohol and drug use, bringing shame to himself, disappointing his parents and their dreams for him. Selfishness and pleasure-seeking blind him to Emma’s love and he takes her friendship for granted. Departing broken-hearted and disgusted, she says “I love you Dex, I really do. I just don’t like you anymore.” Emma’s reaction is borne out of a desire for Dexter’s good, as true friends hurt to see friends hurting. And while it seems to take many years, Emma’s friendship transforms Dexter much more than he knows. As one character observes of Dexter “She makes you decent. And in return you made her so happy”.
Relationships in general and marriage in particular are not only good for our satisfaction, but also our personal improvement – learning to restrain one’s tongue, learning to give up bad habits, learning to watch romantic movies like One Day, learning to put others ahead of oneself. Changing one’s character and behaviour is a long process, and often comes by learning through one’s mistakes and realising what is in front of you, and perhaps a lot of unwitting (and witting!) prodding along the way.
The conclusion of One Day might leave you wondering whether such mistakes are necessary, but somehow those mistakes are part of what makes life what it is, for better or for worse. One Day rings true in acknowledging that life is difficult, people are stubborn and blind to how their short-sighted choices hurt self and others. And so we yearn all the more for Emma and Dexter as we ourselves yearn for stability and joy in our relationships; relationships which flourish long after that one day two people meet.