The Swell Season

If you’re anything like me, you were absolutely captivated by the simple romantic ambiguity of Once. (If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it now.) It was a movie untouched by Hollywood, pretentiousness, CGI, auto-tune, cynicism, any of those toxic qualities that are now basically commonplace in our blockbuster entertainment. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova made beautiful music, and maybe more, but that wasn’t important.

Except, it actually was. Turns out, there was more. This little documentary, which has the same name as their little band, explains how they actually fell in love while they made Once, and then stayed in love as the movie’s popularity picked up speed and earned them an Oscar, and then fell out of love as the hype died away and they were left to propel their musical careers without the aid of adrenaline.

It seems that Irglova was the catalyst for the whole breakup, though there’s no reason to blame her at all. She was so, so young at the height of her fame–maybe 19 or 20–and after awhile, it just got to her. She never felt like a celebrity, she never wanted to do celebrity things, and she never intended to be in the spotlight. Hansard, on the other hand, had started his music career at age 13 and had basically been working up to that moment. He was in his late 30’s when Once happened, as prepared as he could have been, and relatively comfortable in the spotlight. She still had her entire 20’s and 30’s ahead of her; he had lived them and come out okay. To be in those very different stages of life, experiencing the same thing–it’d tear anyone apart.

Irglova, despite her youth, always seemed wise beyond her years, even in Once. She has this very maternal, calm demeanor about her; the word “effortless” was bandied about several times in the movie, and I think it’s the most accurate adjective for her. Her voice, her musical knowledge, her poise all point to some sort of innate sense of confidence, but one that doesn’t manifest itself in arrogance. She was perfectly fine letting Glen take most the spotlight. She was the sturdiest possible backbone.

Hansard, while not necessarily her opposite, always seemed a bit frantic in his pursuit of fame, maybe because he knew it’d be taken from him as quickly as it arrived. I was never able to place how I felt about him when I saw Once, and even now, in a non-fiction setting, I still can’t put my finger on it. On the one hand, he’s got this incredibly passionate voice and charming Irish accent, but on the other, he takes himself really seriously and is sort of immersed in the pretentiousness of his story. He’s a talented musician, to be sure, but I can’t separate his fictional self from his real self; maybe he can’t either.

It’s hard to say whether he’ll really be successful without Irglova; their voices blend so perfectly together, their harmonies seem to create a magical third note even when there are just two of them. She’s off and married now, presumably with fewer cameras rolling. This kind of love story leaves you hoping that each gets what they want out of life, even if it’s a cliche. Even the messiest problems have the neatest solutions; “neat” and “easy,” however, are not interchangeable in The Swell Season.