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Betsy Kerekes reviews What Is Love?, a documentary about the science and nature of love.

Aside from "God is love," the idea of what love is fascinated me. What makes us like one another? Why do we fall in love?  

What is Love? does an excellent job explaining the science behind this, as well as giving several real-life examples of different forms of love: romantic, sacrificial, and transformative. 


20231011 BKerekes What is Love poster


Researchers have studied the question of what love is, even discovering the subconscious ways we scope out a potential mate. Turns out, that whole pheromones and good child-bearing hips thing is real. And apparently, women note jaw lines and the shoulder to waist angle in men to size up their levels of testosterone. Who knew?! 

There’s even more to it than that, like weighing the compatibility of immune systems by the exchange of genetic information through saliva in a kiss. Wow! This and more are processed by our brains without us realizing it, all in pursuit of finding a mate with whom we can have “reproductive certainty” for healthy offspring. 

“When the brain finds a likely partner, its reward system activates,” the narrator tells us, with a great explanation of how dopamine works: for good or ill, as he explains, and how this same process can also lead to marital problems later on. 

There’s also a good graphic for what men and woman say they look for in a romantic partner. Fortunately, the two groups’ answers mostly coincide. And did you know, the average person falls in love 2-3 times in their adult life? Wild. 

All the graphics are well done. I was particularly intrigued by one called the Dunbar Number, which demonstrates the average number of acquaintances, friends, close friends, and best friends the average person has, and how many hours of time together are needed to move an individual up that ladder of ranking. What is Love? explains why those close friendships are vital to human flourishing. 




The documentary also gets into emotional contagion: the phenomenon of our moods influencing that of our friends, in both negative and positive ways, a chain reaction that carries to the level of our friends’ friends. Add social media to this spread, and you suddenly want to be far more mindful of what you post online. 

The bulk of the movie focuses on several real-life love stories in varied forms, including those of Saint Gianna Molla, Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza, a London mafia enforcer(!), and a couple struggling with a terminal illness. 

These were all compelling and exquisitely acted in the cases where the real-life person wasn’t present. The film ends by exploring the connection between human love and Christ’s sacrificial love for us. 

Well-researched and highly engaging (pun intended), I recommend this movie to all interested in a better understanding of this most powerful force on earth.  

What is Love? is in U.S. theaters Monday, October 16 only. You can watch the trailer below and learn more about showtimes and locations from the official website




Copyright 2023 Betsy Kerekes
Images: (top) WhatIsLove.org, all rights reserved; screenshot by Betsy Kerekes