A tale of two movies: You’ve got mail (1998)


Happy Valentine’s Day!

Just for fun, I thought I’d review an old favourite of mine today: You’ve got mail.

Along with disaster movies, I have a soft spot for rom-coms. You’ve got mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is one that resonates with me, because I met my wife online through an AOL chatroom (as the characters do), and it’s one of the first movies we watched together.

But the last time I watched it, something occurred to me that changed everything…

The Nice

The story is that our Meg lives a quiet life running a quiet bookshop in New York. She’s never wandered close to the cliff edges of her life and looked down, and she’s never thought about what would happen if the cliff ever gave way…

She talks online to a man she’s never met, spilling her innermost thoughts and desires to this man without even knowing his name. Unfortunately for her, the man is our Tom, who owns a mega-bookstore around the corner from Meg’s bookshop. It pushes our Meg over the edge of one of those cliffs.

Since Tom doesn’t know who Meg is either, much mis-understanding results until they all get it sorted out at the end. About halfway through, Tom figures it out, but realises he needs to change before Meg will go near him. He starts a project to win her over by getting to know her in real life.

And the ending where Meg is standing there figuring it all out as Tom walks towards her makes me tear up every time.

No, that’s just something in my eye, I’m not crying. You’re crying.

The Nasty

I work in a school, in IT, and one of the things we have to be aware of (and not just me, everyone who works here) is something called “safeguarding”. The internet, for all its wonders, is a dangerous place. There are people out there who want to groom our pupils for their own malicious ends.

So let’s look at You’ve got mail again:

Meg talks online to a man she’s never met, spilling her innermost thoughts and desires to this man without even knowing his name. They’ve agreed anonymity. Meg has no idea who she’s talking to, or what he’s doing with that information. She doesn’t even know if it’s one man or several sharing the same account. Some major red flags right there!

About halfway through, Tom figures it out. He doesn’t tell Meg this. He blatantly manipulates her throughout the rest of the movie, pulling her along. His online knowledge of her allows him to twist Meg into the shape he wants until she is convinced she’s in love with him.

At the same time, his online persona continues to tease her interest for the eventual meeting. Tom even says towards the end, “He waited until you were primed. Until you knew there was no other man you could ever love.”

Ted Bundy was charming too!

This is textbook grooming. Tom has cut Meg off from her boyfriend and isolated her from her business and her friends. He’s spun her and confused her enough that she can’t help fall in love with him. It’s like a manual of how to manipulate someone.

The second interpretation isn’t one I like to see when I watch this movie. But the subtext is there, never the less, and makes the outcome of the movie all the more disturbing because of it.

Not so cute now, huh?

Have you ever seen You’ve got mail? Do you think Tom is a sociopath or a good guy? Let me know!