“Love changes us”.
This is my favorite line in a series that brims with great lines. But this one, in particular, struck a chord – because of its universal truth. (OK, OK, this is not the exact line in the script, but it’s the thought behind it! Please, bear with me.)
At the end of last night’s episode, Damon is, once again, pondering his existential dilemma – and when he says he can’t be who he is because Elena wants him to be a better man, I could not help but be reminded of a very similar situation in a fantastic movie released in 1997.
Perhaps you’ve seen “As Good As It Gets”. It stars Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall, a misanthrope suffering from OCD, and Helen Hunt as Carol Connelly, the waitress who appears to be the one person in the world who can actually tolerate Melvin and his weird behavior.
If you have never seen this film, please rent it and watch it – immediately. It is an Academy Award winning film and a brilliant story about the redemptive power of love.
During the film, Melvin and Carol begin to develop a relationship. In a pivotal scene at a restaurant, Melvin – having insulted Carol’s choice of dress – is directed by Carol to pay her a compliment “right now” or she makes it plain that she is leaving.
Melvin attempts to tell Carol his feelings by describing how much he hates to take his medication, but recently, he’s started taking it again. Then he tells her why.
Melvin to Carol – “You make me want to be a better man.”
Carol to Melvin. “That’s may be the best compliment of my life.”
Now, perhaps it’s unfair to compare a vampire to an OCD sufferer – or is it? Both of these men actually have the same problem – a “nature” they don’t like or accept but seem powerless to overcome.
In “As Good As It Gets”, Melvin is nasty and insulting to virtually everyone, including Carol. When he is not insulting people, he’s fighting his internal demons – going through the long and painful ritual of washing and rewashing his hands, locking and re-locking his door, avoiding cracks on the sidewalk – all those things that someone with OCD is compelled to do.
In “The Vampire Diaries”, Damon is nasty and sarcastic to virtually everyone, including his own brother and the woman he professes to love. When he is not insulting people or hurling sarcasm at them, he is biting them and/or killing them, ripping their hearts out, or compelling them to do his bidding – all those things that a vampire is compelled to do by their nature.
In “As Good As It Gets”, Melvin was able to overcome his nature – and his illness – by caring more about another person than he did about himself. In other words, he got “out” of himself and in doing so, he got away from his demons – those things that drive someone with OCD to perform the rituals that consume their lives.
By the end of the picture, Melvin is walking on a brick sidewalk and has forgotten to be concerned about stepping on the cracks because he’s focused on Carol – not himself and his “rules”.
Damon’s behavior is a lot like Melvin’s. When he is focused on the feelings of someone else, and actually being the “better man” that Elena asks him to be, he is at his best. If you look back at every episode, the best Damon is not throwing his snark around – he’s brave, strong, and focused.
He loves Elena and he sacrifices for her, confessing his love and wiping her memory of it.
He cares for Rose and when he ends her pain by ending her life, he cries.
He is strong, and noble. He is his best self. It is evident that he is quite capable of being “a better man”.
But Damon doesn’t believe he’s worthy of love – especially Elena’s love. He doesn’t let people get close, because he doesn’t believe anyone could really care for him. Damon sees himself first as a monster that kills – and how could anyone ever love a creature like that?
“I don’t trust myself around anyone. I’m bad, Andie. I do things – I kill people. I like it. It’s in my nature – it’s who I am. But then I have to stay together to protect her – she wants me to be a better man, which means I can’t be who I am.”
But Andie, although compelled by Damon, sees clearly what Damon does not.
“Well, maybe this is who you are now. Love does that Damon – it changes us.”
If love can conquer OCD, and prove strong enough for mortal enemies – vampires and werewolves – to bond in order to fight against a common foe, I have no doubt it is strong enough to change Damon Salvatore’s basic vampire nature.
He already is the man Elena wants him to be – he just doesn’t know it yet!