John Carney has made some of my favorite movies. I have watched and loved most of his films. Begin Again has a scene imprinted in my mind forever, Sing Street boosts endorphins, and Flora and Son stole my heart. Carney mastered the art of charming — slightly bittersweet — movies about music and love. These films speak to me. Despite my love for most of John Carney’s movies, I kept delaying watching Once.
“Falling Slowly” is one of my favorite songs of all time, and it’s one of those songs synonymous with a specific movie, so I have always wanted to watch Once. Therefore, I have no logical explanation for the delay. Nevertheless, I decided to finally watch it after watching Flora and Son. Prior to seeing Once, I heard a few details about it, such as the ending being sad — a sentiment I now disagree with.
I was also told it was a love story. I think Once is one but not in the way I assumed.
Warning Once spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.
The Love Story Isn’t Only About The Main Characters
I initially thought the love story in Once was about Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Markéta Irglová). Their relationship is an important piece of the movie, but I don’t think their romance (or lack of it) is the main purpose of the film.
I think the main character of Once is the music. The music is how they communicate and it’s how the audience understands them. Dublin is also a main character in the movie. Some of the most important scenes in Once happen while Guy and Girl are walking around Dublin. Like great films set in New York, or those set in Paris, or even the movies about Los Angeles, Dublin is a living breathing entity in Once.
The movement of the city: its triumphs and struggles are felt as the characters move around it. And there is a lot to unpack with Guy’s decision to leave Dublin and head to London for a chance to make it work with his ex-girlfriend and maybe launch his music career. He leaves multiple things he loves by going to London. However, it could also be said that he just outgrew Dublin.
Romantic love, love of a place, and the love of music are several of the ways Once showcases love and loss. Also, love and hope.
Guy And Girl Have A Complicated Relationship That’s More Than Just Friends But Not Fully Romantic
Once surprised me in that both Guy and Girl were still coping with heartbreak. This shouldn’t have been a major surprise to me because Begin Again and Flora and Son also deal with complicated relationships with exes. You’re never quite sure if Carney’s characters are going to explore something new or get back together with their exes.
Once follows this trend. Guy and Girl like each other but are also still holding on to the past. They’re still heartbroken. Guy also tries to gently push his relationship with Girl into a romantic realm, but she rejects it.
Guy and Girl, like their music careers, exist in a world where they have unfulfilled potential. They could have an unforgettable love story but they’re stuck as just friends because they grow comfortable in these roles and both can’t quite let go of their pasts. However, I am not convinced that that’s completely a bad thing.
They form something stronger than romance by staying friends. Romantic relationships sometimes have very messy breakups or end in dark places, but many friendships last far longer than romance. Now, Once kind of ends in a way where Girl cuts off both in order for them to move on, but there is always a chance that they can become friends again.
Music And The Love Of It Is One Of The Main Love Stories
I think the love of music is the main love story in Once. Guy and Girl’s whole relationship forms because of their shared passion for music. They bond the most when singing together or showing each other their music. Everything in the story comes back to music.
It’s also a musical film so music and songs are so crucial to the story. Once also shows the artist’s burden. Guy may not be making that much money busking but he’d rather do that than not play and get his music out into the world.
The art of music and the love for it very much defines Once.
I Was Surprised To Discover That It’s A Love Story About Falling In Love Again With Love
I wouldn’t label Guy and Girl jaded. However, she is separated from her husband and his girlfriend cheated on him. They aren’t doing great in the love department. Girl encourages Guy to go to London to be with his ex-girlfriend and pursue his career. Guy listens to Girl’s problems with her husband.
They offer mutual support. Guy and Girl also help each other fall in love again with the idea of love. Through their music and relationship, they make each other less lonely. They also make each other want a romance and take a second chance with their exes. And they fall in love with themselves again.
This allows them to have faith that they can make it work with their partners. Additionally, returning to their exes may be a default setting because they’re not brave enough to be together, but I like to think that even if both break up with their partners again, they have become stable enough to not give up on love. They will love again because they know the power and importance of it, especially as artists. Additionally, they could always find each other again and have another shot at being together.
The Ending Isn’t Bittersweet But Hopeful
I don’t view Once’s ending as bittersweet. I think it’s hopeful. Yes, Girl and Guy didn’t end up together, but it never seemed like the movie was heading in that direction. Their ex-partners had too much of a role in this story. It was only towards the end of the movie that Girl even acknowledged that their relationship could have romance.
Most of Once, she crushed any proposal of intimacy. The film doesn’t end with them together, but I don’t think that’s the point of the movie. To me, the pursuit of their music is the point of the film. In the end, he leaves for London. It’s partly to be with his ex-girlfriend but I think it’s mostly to take a chance on his music career.
He may fail in London but the fact that he’s taking a chance shows he’s being brave. It doesn’t matter the outcome, it matters that he’s willing to try. To me, that’s the magic of Once. That is the hope in it.
Flora and Son strikes a similar chord with the idea of hope and love. John Carney knows how to make these beautiful songwriter movies that are hopeful but also not quite the romantic fantasy some viewers may want. Once is powerful in its simplicity and gorgeous music.
Check out CinemaBlend’s full interview with John Carney for more insight into music and storytelling and his recent film Flora and Son.
Stream Once on The Roku Channel.