There are some Christmas movies out there that I could be considered a certified expert on by now. Like I could definitely give expert testimony on Love Actually at this point. Because there are new questions to be asked every time you see the film — which is a lot at this time of year — let's take a moment to break down one very important question: why didn't Karl just ask Sarah out again in Love Actually? I've always wondered if he was shy or maybe just a lame person, but the older I get, the more I realize that those two were never going to make it as a couple. Honestly, the window for them to try just closed.
You know the romance I'm talking about. Laura Linney's character Sarah has been in love with her co-worker Karl, played by the devastatingly handsome Rodrigo Santoro, since basically the moment she laid eyes on him. She keeps quiet about it for years — specifically "two years, seven months, three days and, I suppose, an hour and thirty minutes" — until finally someone gives Karl the good word, and he appears to reciprocate. They dance, they kiss, they go home together, sex is imminent, and then...
Sarah gets a phone call about her institutionalized brother, things stall out, and the pair spends the rest of the movie gazing at each other hopelessly without doing anything about it.
So what's the deal with that? Why doesn't one or the other of them just make a second move? You get one ill-timed phone call interrupting your first breathless sexual experience and all of a sudden it's your last breathless sexual experience? What's that about? Whom can I blame for the sexual frustration that this movie gave me as a teen when all I wanted to do was smooch on Karl?
Well, I think it's a little bit on both of them, because, as far as I can tell, the moment was lost and the energy between them just fizzled. I'm sure you've had the experience of an unrequited crush; I know I have. It's super fun and it makes you feel really good and excited. But, ultimately, it's all inside your own head, because the other person either doesn't know about your feelings or doesn't return them.
In Sarah's case, that means she'd probably built up an idea of who Karl was, and what a relationship with him would be like. While that feels really big in the moment, it's also easily punctured. Once a little bit of real life starts to intrude on that fantasy — like a call from your brother who has concrete wants and needs in the world and is a real person with whom you've established a foundation — it can be really hard to get back into your daydream. In fact, I suspect that even if the call hadn't come in, and Karl and Sarah had consummated their apparently-mutual crush, that nothing would have come of it in the end. It seemed like something they had both built up and needed to explore, just so they could stop thinking about it.
If they'd both been 20somethings who'd been secretly in love with each other for years, maybe they would have hooked up for a few months before calling it off, but these are grown-ass adults, with real lives, and that's the awareness that I see in their eyes for the rest of the movie. It isn't regret or shyness or disdain, even — it's pure sadness. They both realize that there was a window for something to happen between them. It was open for an instant, and all the realities of life faded away in that excitement, but then they came rushing back in, as they always do, and the moment was lost. Once you start to see someone in a different light, you can never go back to that blissfully ignorant idea you had of them in your head.
If Karl had asked Sarah out again, or vice versa, it would have been trying to replicate something that already went exactly as it should have. And, for that reason, it's one of the few relationships in the movie that's actually realistic.