Sheila Heti

The Kiss

Ryan Gosling & Rachel McAdams, “Best Kiss” (MTV Movie Awards, 2005)

This is perhaps the most self-assured public kiss I have ever seen from two movie stars. I know, I know, I am far behind and millions of people from all over the world have already seen the kiss. But I only just saw it today.

At the time of this win, they were a couple. But they are also a couple of actors. Naturally, any couple winning an award would want to kiss to celebrate. But is a kiss by actors who are celebrating a win—before an audience—actually a kiss between a couple, or is it a performance kiss? Is it an authentic kiss?

I watched the clip twice to find out, but couldn’t. It’s certainly a very sexy, slow, well-orchestrated kiss, and both Ms. McAdams and Mr. Gosling seemed to know that she would stay on his hip as he walked to the award table.

Of course, the question of authenticity is all out-of-whack. For of course actors are actors, and so a kiss between actors that is acted is deeply authentic: it is perhaps more authentic for two actors to act a kiss when before millions, then to actually kiss.

If this is an acted kiss, then, but acting requires drawing on real feelings—and sometimes, in rare moments, produces them—a more bewildering question might be: are they, in acting this kiss, drawing on the feelings they had kissing each other in real life? Or are they drawing on the feelings of kissing other people that they drew on to kiss each other when they first started kissing while shooting the movie? Or are they drawing on the performance-kiss feelings of kissing in the movie, to mask what might be their real-kissing feelings in their moment of victory?

I like that last possibility best: that this kiss is a squelching of a real kiss for the sake of good ole showbiz.

When they kiss later, for real, will they—as actors always do—be stepping back from themselves and saying to themselves, “Remember this kiss, what it feels like to be kissing”—so they can use it again?

– Sheila Heti

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Sheila Heti is the author of "Motherhood," "The Middle Stories," "Ticknor," "How Should A Person Be?" —  chosen by The New York Times as one of the 100 Best Books of 2012—and most recently, "Pure Colour." She's also published an illustrated book for children, "We Need a Horse," featuring art by Clare Rojas, a book of "conversational philosophy" called "The Chairs Are Where the People Go," with Misha Glouberman, and, as co-editor, a book about what style really means, called Women in Clothes. More Sheila Heti here.