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I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.
So opens The Notebook against the backdrop of a spectacular sunset over a lake, grabbing our hearts and never letting go as the extraordinary love story of Allie and Noah unfolds.
It begins at the end. Every day his failing health allows, an octogenarian shuffles down the corridors of a nursing home and enters an old woman’s room. Her mind is riddled by Alzheimer’s disease, but as the man reads from the handwritten pages of a worn notebook, science is defied and her memory is sparked by the timeless story of their love. ...
The chronicle he reads begins one summer in 1930s North Carolina. Poor country boy Noah Calhoun meets rich city girl Allie Hamilton and is instantly attracted. Soon the two are inseparable, spending every waking moment together. He shows her how to have good ol’ country-style fun; she invites him into her world of fine arts and garden parties. By the end of the summer the teen soul mates have given their hearts, and most of their purity, to each other.
There’s just one problem: Allie’s parents have her future all planned out, and Noah doesn’t fit the picture of the wealthy, blue-blooded husband they have in mind for her. So without giving the young lovers a chance to even say goodbye, Mrs. Hamilton packs her little girl off to a fancy women’s college. Noah writes to Allie every day for a year, but never receives a reply. Unaware of parental deception, Allie and Noah are each devastated at the perceived abandonment by the other. They slowly rebuild their lives apart, haunted by memories of their first love.
Noah survives a stint in Patton’s third army during WWII, then returns to buy and restore his dream home, all the while fighting off Allie’s ghost. Allie gets an art degree and becomes a volunteer army nurse before settling down to the life her parents dreamed of. But why does she see Noah’s face while accepting the rich and handsome Lon’s proposal? When all hope seems lost, "fate" intervenes and they’re given a second chance at love.
Noah’s dad models selflessness and generosity of spirit to his son. He teaches him to build a relationship one memory at a time by sharing life’s simple joys like fishing and eating pancakes at midnight. He also instills in his young son a love of poetry by having him repeatedly recite Walt Whitman to overcome a speech impediment. Noah’s love of the written word is embraced by Allie, and their shared passion for expressing their feelings in writing becomes the life support of their relationship. (In today’s high-tech world, it’s refreshing to find a story that upholds the power of the written word.)
Mrs. Hamilton redeems her broken relationship with her daughter by returning Noah’s letters at a critical moment and sharing a story from her own youth that helps Allie choose what path she will take. Noah’s example of placing his wife before all others is an inspiration to a generation taught to put their own needs first. He also makes it clear that love is hard, everyday work, and that squabbles don't have to undo it. Ultimately, he gives up his beloved home and personal life to reside in a separate wing at her nursing home, not for health reasons, but to allow himself constant access to Allie.
Another poignant lesson here is that all human life has value. The elderly and mentally disabled still have much to offer and are not ready to be cast by society into the invisible realm of shadow people. This is reflected not only in the relationship between the aging Allie and Noah, but also in the compassionate treatment they receive from nursing home attendants who come up with creative ways to accommodate patients’ emotional and physical needs.
The narrator, commenting on the doctor’s prognosis of Allie’s dementia, says, “Science only comes so far and then comes God.” He also speaks of the “miracle” of love. While Allie and Noah never discuss spiritual matters (except for lighthearted banter about being a bird in some past life), their love matures into the embodiment of God’s ideal expressed in 1 Corinthians 13.
Author Nicholas Sparks told ChristianityToday.com that he believed his stories (most notably A Walk to Remember) resonated with Christians because, “I have certain moral parameters that I do not cross in writing; I don’t write about adultery or kids having premarital sex.” His book The Notebook mentions (briefly) that the teenage Noah and Allie “both lost their virginity.” This movie, however, translates those four words into an onscreen romp that'll leave families squirming uncomfortably in their seats. After exchanging promises, Noah and Allie shed their clothes one piece at a time, then engage in totally nude foreplay. (Calculated positioning of arms, legs and the camera, along with the low light, obscures both bodies' most "delicate" parts.) Allie’s remaining virtue is rescued (and moviegoers' along with her) when Noah’s best friend barges in and tells them Allie’s folks have the cops out looking for them.
Years later the now-adult couple’s second tryst, and actual consummation of their passions (an event written about in considerably detail in the book) occurs long into Allie's engagement to a “good man” that she says more than once she’s in love with. She playfully rebukes Noah’s advances with, “You wouldn’t dare. I’m a married woman!” He counters by reminding her she isn’t married yet. They then commence a two-day love affair that, because of its fiery intensity and just-shy of explicit nudity feels like it lasts at least that long onscreen.
Thinking Allie is lost to him forever, Noah “takes the sting of loneliness” away by becoming bed buddies with a war widow named Martha. (Sex is implied when Martha gets out of bed nude; she's seen from the back, from the waist up.) Martha knows he’s thinking of another woman during their romps but accepts his explanation that “the things you want are all broken, gone.” Martha goes over to Noah’s house after he’s reunited with Allie and asks to meet his "one." Inexplicably, instead of being jealous, Martha is inspired by the love she sees. Her parting words to Noah are, “For the first time since I lost [my husband], I feel like I have something to look forward to.”
Elsewhere, Allie licks ice cream off Noah’s face on a public street (risqué stuff for 1930s rural America). And he slaps her bottom as she gets out of his truck. A nude Allie is seen painting (waist up from the back). A few characters wear revealing outfits.
Allie pushes and slaps Noah several times during a heated argument. (To his credit, Noah refuses to retaliate.) Noah’s best friend, Fin, dies in battle. (War images are brief and tempered.)
Crude or Profane Language
A half-dozen misuses of God's name (three of “g--d--n"), and a dozen or so other mild profanities ("a--," "h---," "d--n"). The elderly Allie, commenting on a notebook passage, says, “She should have told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
The narrator tells us that Noah goes on a 10-day drinking binge after seeing Allie with her fiancé, Lon. Indeed, both Noah and Allie drink quite a bit to smother their pain. Allie and Lon seem a bit tipsy while drinking champagne at a nightclub. Lon has a casual drink in his office. When the adult Allie and Noah have beers with dinner, she tells him she’s a cheap drunk. Guests at a party drink and smoke cigarettes. WWII soldiers and Lon also inhale.
Other Negative Elements
A few juvenile hijinks don't cause much of a ruffle onscreen, but could result in real-life unhappy endings if imitated: An impetuous young Noah dangles from the heights of a Ferris wheel with one hand to capture Allie’s attention. (She responds by undoing his pants and revealing his boxers.) When Noah challenges Allie to lie down in the middle of an intersection (remember, this is rural America) in the middle of the night, she asks, “What happens if a car comes?” His deadpan reply? “You die. You have to learn to trust.” Elsewhere, army recruits are seen nude. (Their hands cover their privates.)
Allie’s parents make no secret of the fact that they believe Noah isn’t worthy of their daughter. They like him all right, he’s just not rich enough and doesn’t have the right daddy. On the night of the couple’s breakup, Noah overhears Allie’s mother calling him “trash, trash, trash!” Mrs. Hamilton’s deception of hiding Noah’s letters from Allie succeeds in keeping the couple apart for years, but at the cost of a strained mother-daughter relationship.
Some will write The Notebook off as yet another emotionally manipulative and overly-sappy “chick flick.” But because it looks so tenderly at an elderly couple stricken by Alzheimer's, others will find themselves attracted to it, placing themselves into the story and living out its emotion. It might also be seen as a timely reflection of the deep and lasting loved shared by Nancy and Ronald Reagan, whose love story has made a permanent cultural impression. Just as Nancy’s commitment and love transcended the emotional and physical gulf that marked her husband’s disease, so Noah’s steadfast love for Allie sustains them.
Nicholas Sparks has said his story “is a metaphor for God’s love for us all. The theme is everlasting, unconditional love. It also goes into the sanctity of marriage and the beauty you can find in a loving relationship.” Although that metaphor gets more than a little muddied by premarital sex, Noah and Allie ultimately realize the full potential of mature love. Most romantic dramas only celebrate the chaotic, spontaneous flush of young love, serving it up as the pinnacle of the relationship before either settling down on a complacent plateau or crashing down the slippery slope of dysfunction. Sparks' movie shows a rare understanding of the kind of love God desires for married couples, a once-in-a-lifetime deep intimacy of spirit, expressed without boundaries and growing in strength and loveliness as time goes by. It is the kind of soul-satisfying love that God established as a demonstration of His own love for His people, hence the author’s metaphor. That makes it all the more regrettable that steamy sex scenes will give a lot of adults reason to pause, and push the tale (at least unedited) out-of-bounds for discerning teens.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Rachel McAdams as young Allie Hamilton; Ryan Gosling as young Noah Calhoun; Gena Rowlands as elderly Allie; James Garner as elderly Noah; Joan Allen as Anne Hamilton; David Thornton as John Hamilton; James Marsden as Lon; Sam Shepard as Frank Calhoun; Kevin Connolly as Fin
Nick Cassavetes (John Q)
New Line Cinema