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Film / Message in a Bottle

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A 1999 film directed by Luis Mandoki and starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright, and Paul Newman.

The story is a romantic drama about Theresa (Wright), a single mother who tries to move on after her divorce, and Garret (Costner), a man who cannot imagine entering a relationship after his wife Catherine died. Catherine's death has an impact on the lives of many people, inflaming the conflict between Garret, who is a shipwright, and her family, who had wanted her to become a famous painter and now blames the man for her untimely death. Unable to come to terms with himself, Garret writes a letter to Catherine, puts it into a bottle and throws out at sea. After Theresa accidentally finds the bottle, she begins a private investigation to find the author of the letter, feeling curious about the story behind it.


It is notably the first film adaptation from author Nicholas Sparks, and began the trend of high profile Hollywood adaptations of his works that would last through the 2000s and 2010s.

Tropes in this film include:

  • All Love Is Unrequited: For a long time, Theresa's love for Garret is this, but it is subtly implied that also Charlie Taschi's love towards her.
  • Amicably Divorced: Theresa and David - although their meetings are still a bit awkward.
  • Anchored Ship: The reason of the film's dramatic mood.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Theresa towards Garret. It takes them some time to deal with the situation.
  • Bar Brawl: Between Garret and Catherine's brother in the diner.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Catherine and Garret grew up in the same town and later married.
  • Comforting Comforter: The beginning of the complicated relationship between Theresa and Garret.
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  • Country Mouse: While in Chicago to visit Theresa, Garret is visibly nervous about riding the L train and seems particularly eager to put as much distance as possible between himself and a black passenger.
  • "Dear John" Letter: An atypical example, as the addressee (Catherine) is dead and the author of the letter (Garret) is conscious about it.
  • Diving Save: Garret, near the end of the film.
  • Downer Ending: Garret dies just after his decision to move on and enter the relationship with Theresa. She learns of it only from his last letter to Catherine, in which he tells her about his new love. This differs from the book, where he chooses to not let go of Catherine's memory, and thereby lets go of Theresa.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Garret's father did this in the past, which makes him close to The Drunken Sailor.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: A double example. Garret addresses a letter to Catherine, wherein he tells her of his love for her one more time, but also of his new love for Theresa. He does not realize however that it is a dying declaration, only dying afterwards by accident.
  • Falling-in-Love Montage: It's the original Nicholas Sparks movie, of course there is one.
  • Feuding Families: Garret has an intensely hostile relationship with Catherine's family, who blame him for her death.
  • The First Cut Is the Deepest
  • Forever Fling: Theresa and Garrett meet and fall in love within a week. Theresa becomes immediately ready to be with Garrett permanently, but he hesitates due to lingering grief over his first wife, Catherine. He does eventually decide to move on with Theresa but dies in an ocean storm before he can.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Theresa begins this way.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Garret's death in the attempt to rescue the family lost at sea - although it's not in vain, as he does manage to save the father and daughter.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Garret and Catherine.
  • Intertwined Fingers: Theresa and Garret share a tender moment that includes one of these.
  • Lost at Sea: During the climax of the film, a small family's boat becomes lost in the storm, with Garret mounting a rescue.
  • The Lost Lenore: The core element governing the plot is Garret's refusal to let go of his deceased wife Catherine.
  • Lost Love Montage
  • Love Before First Sight: Theresa. She begins obsessing over him following the discovery of one of his messages to Catherine, and later begins tracking down other messages he sent. She ends up tracking him down too. Later, after meeting him and beginning a tentative relationship, they quarrel, and it becomes apparent that for some time it may have been Loving a Shadow.
  • Message in a Bottle: Obviously. Following Catherine's death, Garret wrote her her two love-letters, which he sealed in glass bottles and would hurl out into the sea. Catherine also did this at least once before her death.
  • The Mourning After: Garret experiences this feeling following a night with Theresa.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Jason must get used to David's partner and then to Garret.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Garret. Cathereine's death has led him to become something of a nearly silent recluse, and getting him to have any sort of long conversation is a struggle. His inability to speak his mind later has dramatic consequences.
  • Puppy Love: Garret and Theresa's budding romance consists of nothing more intimate than one passionate kiss and a marshmallow fight on the beach.
  • Second Love: Both Garret and Theresa are this to one another.
  • With This Ring: The symbolic returning of the wedding ring.