By Valerie Kalfrin
I love Valentine’s Day. I like to say that’s because there’s a “Val” in it, but really, it reminds me of love in the world and takes the time to express it.
While I’m not always a fan of rom-coms, I can’t resist the many ways film characters bare their hearts for the ones they love. Not all are as eloquent as Shakespeare: “When Love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.” Yet even the silences ring earnest and true.
Here are a few of my favorite onscreen declarations of love. May they bring a little love and warmth your way (and maybe inspire a rewatch).
Ingrid Bergman starred in “Casablanca,” one of the most-quoted films of all time—and a top-ranked classic romance. But “Notorious” is Golden Age steamy. As future undercover agent Alicia Huberman, she flirts with government handler Devlin (Cary Grant) first after a party, when he ties a scarf around her bare midriff to ward off a breeze. Alicia later peppers her feelings for Devlin between kisses, or a key she slips into his hand during a mission. The uptight Devlin needs to learn she’s in danger before gushing about her, then flies to her side.
“I love you,” he says, holding her cheek to cheek while the camera swirls around them. “I couldn’t see straight or think straight. I was a fat-headed guy, full of pain.”
“Sense and Sensibility” (1995)
In this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, proper Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson) finally loses her reserve when Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant) arrives at her family’s home to propose. First, he verbally falls at her feet. “I’ve come here with no expectations,” he says, “only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is, and always will be, yours.”
“Pride & Prejudice” (2005)
Austen scores again in this adaptation when Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfadyen) professes his love for the headstrong Elizabeth Bennet (Keira Knightley) not once but twice. “You have bewitched me, body and soul,” he says as the sun rises. Oh my.
I lived for a while in Brooklyn, where my apartment was a few blocks from the real Cammareri Brothers bakery where they filmed parts of “Moonstruck.” Even without that tie, residents seemed to have a soft spot for this story. “This is everybody’s family, this movie,” a shopkeeper once told me, watching it on local TV behind the counter.
I can’t help but smile when widowed Loretta (Cher) admits her feelings for her fiance’s brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage): “Aw, Ma, I love him awful.”
But Ronny takes my breath away after their date at the opera, when he argues against Loretta’s misgivings in the most impassioned way possible: “Love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”
“Something New” (2006)
Outside pressures and personal doubts threaten the interracial romance of accountant Kenya McQueen (Sanaa Lathan) and landscaper Brian Kelly (Simon Baker) until Kenya flips a fairy tale on its head, leaving a society ball to invite Brian to join her on the dance floor. “I know you must think I’m combative, neurotic, picky … And maybe I am,” she says. “But the weird thing is, I’ve never had to be anything but myself with you right from the beginning. And with you, I feel like I can do anything, say anything, try anything. And that’s the life I want. I want an adventure with you.”
“Silver Linings Playbook” (2012)
In this adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel, the emotionally fragile Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) turn out to be what each other needs—although Tiffany realizes it first. “I love you,” Pat finally tells her. “I knew it the minute I met you. I’m sorry it took so long for me to catch up. I just got stuck.”
Some of my friends love Harrison Ford’s laconic comeback as Han Solo to Princess Leia in “The Empire Strikes Back,” just before he’s sent off with a bounty hunter. (“I love you,” she says. His reply? “I know.”) But here, Ford shows that actions speak volumes. His Philadelphia detective heads to Amish country to protect a widow (Kelly McGillis) and her son; once she realizes he’s leaving, she takes off her bonnet, an invitation for a splendid kiss and more.
Speaking of subtlety, this romance full of thoughtful gazes between aspiring photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) and society woman Carol (Cate Blanchett) culminates in Therese taking a step toward their future. Newly divorced Carol at first thinks Therese no longer wants her—until Therese shows up at a cushy restaurant where Carol has said she’ll be. When their eyes meet, Carol’s sparkle.
“Before Sunset” (2004)
Writer Jesse (Ethan Hawke) tells sweetheart Celine (Julie Delpy) in 2013’s “Before Midnight” that he messed up his whole life because of the way she sings. That comes toward the end of this film, her lilting recap of their first night together: “Let me sing you a waltz / Out of nowhere, out of my thoughts ….” Yet the two have been dancing around each other the whole movie, learning why they didn’t reconnect after their magical time in Vienna nine years earlier (“Before Sunrise”).
Her cards now on the table, Celine bops around her Paris apartment to a Nina Simone album while the smitten Jesse, who is married and has a flight back to New York, plainly can’t think of anything else but another chance.
“Baby, you are gonna miss that plane,” she chides.
“Shakespeare in Love” (1998)
The Bard (Joseph Fiennes) must bid goodbye to his radiant muse and lover Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), who must marry the stuffy Lord Wessex (Colin Firth, ironically a Mr. Darcy a few times). As they share one last embrace and a kiss, Will says, “You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die.”
“Nor you for me,” she says, then makes one last request. “Write me well.”
“Last of the Mohicans” (1992)
I could quote Daniel Day-Lewis in this movie all day long. Yes, there’s that wildly romantic pledge that his scout Hawkeye makes to Cora (Madeleine Stowe) behind a waterfall, that “no matter how long it takes, no matter how far,” he’ll find her again. But I especially love these two earlier in the film, after Cora’s father, a British Army colonel, orders Hawkeye jailed for sedition after Hawkeye helps the local homesteaders.
“Why didn’t you leave when you had the chance?” Cora asks him tearfully as he holds her through the bars.
“Because what I’m interested in is right here.”
“The Boxer” (1997)
Speaking of Day-Lewis, I can’t overlook his straightforward delivery as Danny Flynn, a former IRA inmate trying to reconnect with his old flame, Maggie (Emily Watson). “You still have it,” he says.
“What?” she asks.
“My soul, for what it’s worth.”
This Oscar-winning animated feature depicts a sweet sci-fi love story with all the nuances of silent films. Humble trash-compacting robot WALL-E just wants to hold hands with EVE, a sleek, chic robot on a secret mission. After he’s injured, EVE frantically repairs him, only to discover that he doesn’t remember her. I always get teary when she holds his hand at last and bows her head to his, sending a tiny spark between them that restores his adorable personality.
“Crocodile Dundee” (1986)
There are some things in this film that make me wince, such as reporter Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) trekking through the Australian outback on assignment in a thong bathing suit and a breezy skirt. But the city girl in me still grins at the last few moments, when New Yorkers on a crowded subway platform help Sue persuade affable crocodile hunter Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) to stick around instead of going on walkabout.
“I love ya! I love ya!” one man in a hardhat relays from Sue, waving on the platform stairs.
“She loves me,” Mick says, as people smile and giggle around him. “Tell her—Ah, I’ll tell her m’self. I’m coming through.”
“The Princess Bride” (1987)
“As you wish,” farm boy Westley (Cary Elwes) says to the lovely Buttercup (Robin Wright) in this adaptation of William Goldman’s comically charming tale. Of course, as the grandfather (Peter Falk) reading their story tells us, what he really means is “I love you.” The line has two great callbacks: once when Wesley, thought dead, lets his beloved know he’s alive—and again at the end, when the grandfather agrees to read the story once more. No wonder Elwes used that phrase as the title of his book about making the film.
“When Harry Met Sally…” (1989)
The trials of a decades-long relationship between friends turned lovers Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) culminate in this, Harry’s midnight rush of honesty: “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Do you have a favorite onscreen “I love you?” Let us know in the comments.