Yesterday I had the misfortune of watching a horrible comedy film called Good Luck Chuck. It was sexist, homophobic, and, perhaps most offensively of all, entirely unfunny. It served the purpose of creating mindless background noise while I worked on other things.
The plot centres around a man called Charlie who, as a child, is cursed by a young girl who has an unreciprocated crush on him. Every woman he goes out with will subsequently leave him and end up marrying the very next person she dates. This naturally spirals into a sex frenzy when he is an adult and women start to realise that all they have to do to get married is to sleep with him. Poor Charlie, of course, meets one girl he doesn’t want to leave him and jumps through bizarre hoops to keep her. Obviously, everything works out in the end.
Ignoring the crass sexist overtones and poorly scripted humour I began to wonder what an improved version of this movie would actually look like. What I began brainstorming was a far darker version. I imagine the movie poster would be more like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
Charlie Logan is cursed as a child. Every person he sleeps with will fall in love with the next person they date and end up in a committed relationship to them. Fast forward to today and word has begun to spread that he is a lucky charm with this weird gift to unite people who may not otherwise have ended up together. He is flooded with wedding, baptism, and bris invitations and begins to occupy a world in which people only want to date him as a stepping stone to their next relationship.
He quits his dental practice and opens up an agency which serves the sole purpose of having sex with people who are lonely and looking to find post-Charlie love. The money starts flowing in and he capitalises on the attention by charging exorbitant fees. He is indiscriminate and sleeps with men, women, gays, lesbians, transsexuals etc. while his childhood friend, Stu, watches on in slight amusement at how superstition can fuel people’s desperation. As far as he sees it, these people paying Charlie are so eager to fall in love that they are willing to believe anything no matter how unlikely if it means possibly finding happiness. At this point Charlie has been doing this for a decade and the urban legend is too socially embedded for Stu to do anything about it.
So he begins to design a scientific experiment to refute it with the null hypothesis that there is no significant difference in the relationship outcome of people Charlie sleeps with than with the general population. Charlie’s clients are all catalogued in the Pastel accounting system. Stu sneaks into Charlie’s office after hours one night and downloads a copy of the database to an external drive and, when he’s back at his place, begins researching the individuals and crunching some numbers. At this point the sample is substantial. At the start of Charlie’s agency the demand and popularity had encouraged him to see up to 4 people a day. He quickly learned that this was an exhausting pace and only kept this up for 100 working days in the first year, dropping to 2 people a day for 80 working days the next year, and then soon deciding to increase his prices to $25,000 a session so he only had to see 1 person for 1 day a week in each year thereafter, with continued price increases as the years went by. This resulted in a sample of 880 clients and a very wealthy Charlie. Charlie had hired a secretary and installed a decent invoicing system half way through his first year so not all of his clients are easily contactable. In the end Stu is able to find the whereabouts and relationship statuses of 800 former clients of Charlie Logan.
After charting the database Stu works out that the largest sample (45%) is heterosexual Caucasian women between ages 26 and 35, so he chooses to use this sample of 360 as his primary base. He breaks down the geographic locations of the group. Charlie works out of Chicago so the majority of the sample is from surrounding states. Stu excludes extreme outliers who had the money to fly in from far away states and countries. Because different lengths of time have passed since they visited Charlie their relationship statuses are, to his mind, more likely to be married or in some form of fixed, monogamous relationship, not just because that is the nature of the curse but also because that is the nature of the human cultural narrative. Through social media and direct contact he is able to determine that it takes an average of 35 weeks after seeing Charlie for these women to publicly announce their permanent commitment to another man. He scratches around to find the range but the standard deviation is 0. Every woman in this group took exactly 35 weeks and every single one is in a committed relationship after that period. A 100% success rate with no variation. Impossible. He had intended to construct some sort of retrospective control group to compare to but this unlikely result throws him. He re-does his numbers from scratch and gets the same result. Then he opens the sample up, re-adding in previously excluded outliers, other demographics, age groups etc. Still 35 weeks across the board.
Taking a step back from his data something eerier begins to emerge. It is qualitative and still very anecdotal, and he had only made hasty scribbles in the margin of his notebook while he had been researching each individual. None of these people seem to be happy. A handful are in abusive relationships with alcoholics or people with violent temperaments. Some previously successful career women are now stay-at-home moms for entire broods of children. Some have undergone cosmetic surgery, even transgender surgery in some cases, in order to please their partners.
Now entirely enthralled with this dataset Stu begins researching the group with this new approach in mind. What he finds is a dark string of suicides, murders, and addictions. The dissatisfaction and misery he’s now chronicling is indisputably above the national average. No relationship ever ends in divorce, amicable or otherwise, and no relationship is ever ended by the non-Charlie-client spouse. It is as though the curse also makes the partner of the client fall irrevocably in love with the client. It makes them possessive and obsessive, bringing out their worst personality traits, however dormant, and exacerbating already present or suppressed issues, like alcoholism and dangerous fetishes. The client’s life is threatened if they try to leave or the partner will threaten self-harm to manipulate the client to maintain the relationship. This warped but reciprocated obsession transforms the clients into desperate, monotonous drones who forget their previous selves and seek only to please and placate their partners, resulting in cycles of abuse and depression (something Stu identifies as hallmarks of the curse) that are only broken by aggressive acts of human nature, forcefully breaking the spell through violence, as though parts of the clients always know they are trapped but can’t actively do anything to remove themselves from the situation.
Stu works on this research for months, a single man in a room filled with obsessively scribbled notes in black ink and torn pages from transcribed conversations with weeping or stony-faced former clients. Eventually he is able to compile a report with a quantitative focus that maintains the original voices of the clients and emails the 80 pages to Charlie’s secretary.
A few days pass without a word from Charlie and Stu begins to wonder if he had seen the report. Maybe he is angry at Stu for invading his privacy or questioning his work ethic. Maybe the secretary had never even passed the report on to Charlie. Stu goes round to Charlie’s office to speak with him directly. He finds Charlie and his secretary hanging by the neck from the ceiling fan in his office, side by side, heads tilted as if in thought, feet dangling.