OBVIOUSLY, SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Notebook is a pretty bad movie. The main character is unlikable, the writing is gooey and dramatic, the story is dull, and the actors cast to play the older versions of the characters look nothing like the younger actors at all. I mean, Ryan Gosling aging and turning into James Garner? I don't think so. Which got me thinking: what if James Garner wasn't actually Ryan Gosling's character at all? Now, this isn't a theory, because you can see when they flip through a photo album that he was just putting youthful, non-specific faces on these characters as a means to tell a story, but wouldn't it have been much more interesting if he was telling a story with a different ending? At the end of the movie we find out that James Garner is Ryan Gosling, Geno Rowlands is Rachel McAdams, and he has been visiting her every day for as long as she's been ill. It's sweet, romantic, a slightly vomitous, but it would have been so much better if James Garner was actually James Marsden's character all along. Why? It would have been selfless atonement, and far richer and more emotionally powerful.
McAdams left Marsden to run away with Gosling, because he's the one she really loved. Okay. So Gosling and McAdams are in love with each other, Marsden is in love with McAdams, and no one loves Marsden. Sorry, better luck next time. Now, in my proposed version of this story, Gosling and McAdams never actually get together in the end. No, she stays with Marsden, and he lives the remainder of their lives feeling guilty, knowing that she wasn't really in love with him and he kept her away from the man she truly wanted. Oooh, tragic. But here's the bonus: the version of his story that he tells her every day once she has dementia involves her getting to live her life with Gosling. This would mean James Garner was actually James Marsden pretending to be Ryan Gosling to convince her that she had run away from him to live the life that she always wanted with Gosling.
Now, you might argue that this would be dishonest and not as sickeningly sweet as the schmaltzy syrup factory ending that we got instead, but wouldn't that have been at least a little more interesting? Marsden giving up his own future and dedicating his life to the woman he loves, offering her momentary bliss after a life of mediocrity from a loveless marriage? Isn't that kind of sacrifice and selflessness what we really want to see in love stories? Maybe this ending is a little dark and too difficult for most people to handle, but I think it would be a vast improvement over what we got instead: a cheesy movie for grandmas to watch, enjoy, and immediately forget.