Manipulative jerk or devoted romantic?

So I just watched “You’ve Got Mail” tonight for probably the 20th time. My mom and I were flipping through the channels, saw that nothing truly worthwhile was on, and decided to enjoy a couple hours of a classic movie that we’ve both seen more times than we can count. And each time I come away with the same question:

Wasn’t Tom Hanks being completely manipulative for the final 45 minutes of the film, as he maneuvers his way into Meg Ryan’s heart? Is this right or fair?

Now me being of the male persuasion, I cannot truly answer this. So instead I pose the question, along with my line of reasoning.

Tom Hanks is kind of a jerk throughout most of the movie. However, through the wonders of dial-up Internet and the soothing voice of the AOL guy, he discovers the “one single person in the world who fills [his] heart with joy.” Naturally, he unknowingly treats said woman (Meg Ryan) horribly as his mega-business forces her shop to close. He continually claims that it is not personal, but the perspective we get of him throughout the movie suggests otherwise and that he finds her to be completely irritating. Now, she hates him as well, but much more justifiably so (see the whole business issue…)

Anyway, Tom Hanks’ character makes the transition towards pursuing Meg Ryan after he chats with his father and discovers that he wants something more – presumably, true love. However, at this point he has already discovered the identity of the woman he is falling for over the WWW, and he starts to treat her much more kindly in an effort to douse the flaming bridge between them.

So here we face the issue – Tom Hanks knows all about Meg Ryan because she has essentially shared her deepest feelings with him online (not a good idea for anyone to follow…), and he uses this knowledge to slowly reveal to her that he is more the man she knows through e-mail and less the “evil” businessman who forced her store to close. Granted, I understand his need to do this. He is not truly pretending to be someone he is not, since his internet presence is (at least we are led to believe) his genuine personality. And he knows that he cannot simply tell Meg the truth, because she will reject him and walk out of his life forever.

Basically, I understand exactly why he did what he did. And I agree that it is probably the only way the movie ends happily ever after. But does that justify his actions? You can see the confusion and conflict in Meg’s face in the final scene as she makes the realization that for the past undisclosed amount of time that he has spent growing closer to her, he has known and manipulated her feelings and thoughts about this mystery man. What he did was controlling and unfair to her right to make her own decision based on truth rather than emotions. But what he did was with the knowledge that they belonged together, and this was in all likelihood the only way that comes to be.

I am interested to hear what others think about this, because while it is simply a 15-year-old movie (or close to it…), I think it reveals a fascinating and important aspect of how people view relationships. Tom Hanks did what he did for love, but it was truly unfair to Meg Ryan. So, while I am also interested in hearing guys’ perspectives, I’d really like to know what ladies would want in that (or any similar situation) – would you want complete and total honesty, or would you want the guy to use his inside knowledge to your emotional benefit but do so in an inherently manipulative manner?

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