Love Addict, and an interview with director Pernille Rose Grønkjær

One of the great things about the medium of film is its "window/mirror" effect -- it provides a way into worlds and people that we may otherwise never experience in real life, while simultaneously reflecting many parts of ourselves back to us. Truly invaluable films leave the viewer changed, or at least ready to make some kind of a change or deep examination of their lives. Love Addict is one of these films.

I was beyond excited to talk to the very cool Pernille Rose Grønkjær, the award-winning director behind the film. She recently won several awards for The Monastery - Mr. Vig and the Nun, a documentary about a Danish recluse who opens his heart to love in the course of transforming a castle into a monastery. Pernille is also among the four excellent filmmakers that comprise Danish Documentary, based in Copenhagen.

On the project's inception and selecting the participants: 

Celeste Ramos: When I watched the trailer, I just had to know exactly what was going on in this film, because it's a documentary that also looks like a dream, a feature, and a wake-up call. I was blown away when I watched it in full. Where did the idea come from and how did the project come to be?

Pernille Rose Grønkjær: Well, it's funny how things come about. I was actually looking at gambling addiction in Vegas. And then I found this amazing place based in Arizona that was treating addictions. There was a link that said "love addiction" next to things like alcohol addiction, drug addiction, etc. And I thought, well, there's no reason to be treated for love. But then I clicked on it and I started reading, and found out about this very interesting topic. A very wise man, who actually appears in the film, said to me that "love addiction is the foundation of all addictions," because what you're really looking for is attention, or to be accepted, or welcome in the world. And you can numb that down with all kinds of alcohol or drugs, stuff like that. And he said, "when you scrape that all off, you just want to be recognized as a human being." And I think that's something that we can all relate to.

CR: Yes. And in listening to Adelaide [one of the women from the film] speak about her experience, it also clearly showed how much love addiction can be related to the role of the addict's parents, and how an absent parent can very much be the source of the lack the addict feels.

PRG: I've done a lot research on this and spoke to many love addicts, and I don't think I met one who did not experience some kind of neglect from their parents. And of course, if such an important person in your life rejects you, then maybe that's the idea you get of what love is. One may think, "well if my dad rejects me, then that must be love!" and along comes a guy who rejects that person, and the person then thinks the guy is in love with them.

CR: One of the unique qualities about your film, apart from its topic, is that despite it being a documentary there is no commentary from you. There is no outside input through the film at all. So how did you select the people who would appear in the film?

PRG: It was very important for me to choose people who were aware of what was going on, aware of their process, and aware of where they were in regard to this addiction. It was important that they were aware of the problem, while also functioning within it at the same time, and from a film point of view this is a very interesting position to be in because it would be something audiences could relate to more easily. It makes the experience more complex and more interesting, because you really "root" for the person you identify with on the screen, and you want them to succeed. It's an interesting way to play with the audience in creating tension, and we did a lot to underline this in the film. We were also of course presented with ethical questions in making the film -- who could we really put on film? How could I do it while still doing a respectable job as director? Because of course I don't want to hang anyone out to dry in a film. So there had to be a balance in showing people on the screen who were wrestling with something that was difficult to control.

On the ethics of a delicate process:

PRG: Part of the film has a fictional component to it, and this was a way for us to still be able to show the many different places love addiction could take you, while remaining very ethical about the portrayal of this and respecting the boundaries of what I could do as the director. I found a wonderful woman in Los Angeles, named Eliza, who has had experience with love addiction as well, and from stories that I've heard we created this layer somewhere between fiction and documentary. We were able to show things that were cool to keep in the film in an ethical way.

CR: Eliza's story was the most intense and probably the more stereotypical story when one imagines a love addict. It's easy to imagine a stalker, or someone who is very intense, obsessive, and out of control.

PRG: Well the subtext that Eliza's story highlights is that the nature of addiction is manipulation. Addiction can of course manipulate you and make you do things you don't want to do. Eliza's story doesn't look like fiction, it looks very real, and in that way it manipulates the audience.

CR: So then how did you get the people whose full, true story appears in the film to trust you?

PRG: This was a very long process that took a long time. The people in this film are some of the bravest people I know. For someone to come forward and tell all of this, for all of us to see, about something that's so delicate takes a lot of courage. As an audience, we can watch it and learn from it without having to expose ourselves. The great thing about the people in the film is that they stepped up to the plate and they did it for somebody else to learn from. And I had to wait for them to be ready to do this, and see the idea or reason behind doing this. If they hadn't like the film, or had felt exposed, then I would have known I didn't do my job as a filmmaker. When we finished the film, we traveled to the states and showed it to the people involved, and some actually had things to add, so we added things to it, and really made sure to make it something they were at ease with.

On the psychology and social issues involved in love addiction:

CR: The film is so relatable in that it shows how we all, to some degree or another, experience some of the feelings that a love addict experiences constantly. A breakup, a divorce, or any other involved relationship with someone not going well can induce these feelings. And it can be disturbing to imagine a life where these feelings are present every day.

PRG: Exactly, and also the "fairy tale dimension" in the film triggers all the illusions that we come to believe that love is. We learn from the Hollywood films, we've seen how it goes down, there's books on all that, and it's hard to be a human today and constantly be told you have to be the perfect lover, the perfect man, the perfect mom, and the perfect this and that. So it's tough for someone to get up and go, look this is my story and what I'm struggling with, and I don't fit into these boxes. At the premiere in New York we screened the film at a festival that looked at various addictions. It was fantastic to have the people from the film present, and feel the audience be so happy that they had come forward to share their stories.

CR: Do you think this film says anything about how the expectations of love, or the "fairy tale elements," apply to gender, or reflects a certain element of society?

PRG: Well, I didn't make the film to find any solutions, or answers, because this is a very complex subject. It's good to put it on a map and let the viewer come to their own decisions. When you're a love addict you normally look for somebody that normally wouldn't want you, and who is rejecting you. The love addict is basically "haunting" the love avoidant. One wants to be loved, the other does not. And these people seem to connect, and it develops into a dysfunctional relationship. I can't say who is right or wrong or what it says about any one person or another. But the film does look at the question: are we able to recognize healthy relationships when we see them? And also in society today, what is a healthy relationship? Is it healthy to go all in, or to be really distant? And in that sense, the film says not necessarily anything about men or women, but it says a lot about how we see love, and what love is and what it's not. I think I learned a lot about what love is not when I made this film.

CR: You know, viewing the film made me think about whether or not something like love addiction is a "symptom of the modern age." It was easy for you and I to get on our computers and have this conversation, and yet we're not in the same room with each other. We're "alone, together." But we're still connecting over a common interest. I could also sit in a room with 40 people, all texting other people on iPhones or something, and feel completely alone. So when I think about how we live in a modern, technological, Western society, I wonder if things like love addiction could be a symptom of our modern living. Did something like love addiction exist long ago when people lived alone on countrysides? Or could love addiction also be linked to knowing the kind of connection you could have -- meeting people via technology being so easy -- yet it's just as easy to be ignored or feel alone in a room full of people?

PRG: I spoke to many therapists about this also. One of the women in the films says that, "love addiction today is what alcoholism was in the fifties. Oh you know, Peter, he drinks a lot, he gets a little weird when he drinks." Because there was no term for it. Nowadays, we like to figure things out and put everything into boxes. In books like Robin Norwood's Women Who Love Too Much and others, the issue of love addiction is looked at as something that has always been here. The fact that relationships can be hard, or figuring out how to relate to someone else in a healthy manner, these are things that have always been questions to wrestle with. For some more than others. Some people become addicts of any type, some never do. But for sure we're in an age where we want to label things, and try to understand them. I've met people who are glad that the label of "love addiction" is there, because now they can work forward from it. And I've met other people who say, "no, I don't want to be labelled, because if I'm labelled then I have this stamp and I don't want that because I want to get out of it." So it's two different approaches and whichever works for you is great. It's about the person's temperament.

On participant and audience reactions:

CR: So then how did the people who participated react to seeing themselves in the film?

PRG: I'm very happy to say that they liked it. It was one thing to see it on a computer screen with the editor, and so on, and another to see it at the screening in New York, for instance, and have the audience cry or laugh or just react in general. And the New York screening really showed how well-received the participants were, and how much the audience appreciated what they had to share. So we had some great experiences with the film.

Many of the participants used this film as part of their healing process. They're incredible people living great lives, and are now in very good relationships, and so on. So it was cool for me to be a part of their process, for them to allow me to be there with them, especially in a painful time in their lives, and see their development.

On stylistic inspiration:

CR: I can definitely see that. Since relationships (and lack thereof) are such a universal subject, people who view this film can learn so much just by how they react or what they reflect on in their own lives after seeing it. Your style aided a lot in making a film about a difficult, complicated subject into something digestible. It's such a dreamlike film -- a style that is present in a lot of your work, especially in The House Inside Her. Who inspires you stylistically as a director?

PRG: [laughs] Well I have to admit I have to watch Magnolia by Paul Thomas Anderson whenever I start something, I don't know why that is. But I think it's something about how important it is to me to create a universe -- to be able to step into a universe -- when making a film. In that sense I'm not interested in reality. I want to create a cinematic "cave" that you can step into and have an experience in there. That's the magic of film, you can play with time, and so many things, and with the complexity of something like addiction we really wanted to create the contrast between the harshness of reality and the extremity of the fairy tale love addicts live in. The dreaminess is nothing without reality, and getting these things to clash is what can make a film a nice exciting field to play in. It's important to me to take the audience somewhere and open their eyes to something new, and make their time valuable by taking them on a small journey.

Final review: Love Addict is a great film that starts off as something interesting to watch, but by the end becomes a true inspiration to make you look at yourself a little deeper, and look at others with more warmth, understanding, and compassion.

For more info on the film, go to Love Addict's website, where you'll find clips, info on the film's participants, and be able to buy or rent the film online.

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