Tom Jolliffe looks at cinema’s most awful depictions of married life…
With your best Peter Cook impression, repeat after me…’Marriage (or mawiage)…’ That holiest of unions where a couple ties the knot and themselves together, in theory, for the rest of their days. There has been many a depiction of marriage in the entertainment industry. Al Bundy, through ten years of Married… With Children perpetually bemoaning his life as a cuckolded husbanded and disrespected father to comical effect. In cinema, married life has often been a central focus too, and it seems no one wants to see the simplicity and mundane day to day of a routine, happy marriage, because their ain’t no drama.
This is why the inherent drama of broken (or breaking) marriages tend to take the dramatic fore (or indeed the romantic wooing to lead to inevitable marriage). Right now on Netflix you have Marriage Story that is garnering plenty of views and no shortage of award nominations (not least the upcoming Oscars with several nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress). The film has already been memed mercilessly. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson painfully portraying the implosion of a marriage. It’s gut-wrenching, raw and powerfully acted. It’s a film we’ve seen before, with many of the same observations too. Oddly, Revolutionary Road, some years previous, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, is almost the same film, with all the same verocity and anguish. Oddly, that was met with mixed critical response, and for many of the same reasons critics didn’t quite take to Revolutionary Road (persistent grimness) they seemed to take to Marriage Story (for it’s searing and honest anguish).
Take things even further back, and whilst there isn’t as much an immediate focus on the husband and wife dynamic in a disintegrating marriage (opting for the fall out as Dustin Hoffman raises the child single handed), Kramer vs Kramer offers no shortage of vitriol and pain and emotional breakdown. In truth these are all exceptionally well acted. If Marriage Story is somewhat overrated, and Revolutionary Road perhaps a tad under, then Kramer vs Kramer is the true classic standout. Each had impeccable performances all around. Still, each was equally exhausting in its own way.
If divorce rates are higher than historically, when the vows of marriage were more rigidly adhered to, or problems actually worked out, then it might seem a good test, for anyone thinking of rushing into the act, to sit down and watch those aforementioned films. Sit through Kramer vs Kramer, Revolutionary Road and Marriage Story. Trial by grimness. Then finish by flipping things up even further and watch Possession, perhaps the ultimate cinematic denouncement of marriage.
In Andrezj Zulawaski’s horror oddity, it shows the result of a broken marriage, and the belated, half-hearted attempts to resurrect it. The fact is, Sam Neill, the possessive husband is more broken about the fact he’s been replaced by another man than actually wanting his marriage re-ignited. If you think Streep, Winslet or Johansson have displayed the raw, unrestrained emotional grief of being trapped in a dying patriarchal marriage, then they’re nothing on the sheer emotional explosions that Isabelle Adjani delivers in Possession. Here’s the thing, whilst at the core the film is a terse drama about broken marriage, it’s also a disturbing psychological horror with lashings of metaphor and surreal imagery.
You may come out of the likes of Marriage Story, still thinking that marriage is a good idea. If you survive those intense dramas, and can then stomach Possession on top and still want to get on bended knee, then congratulations, you’ve passed the exam. It seems like these classic ‘anti-marriage’ films all have iconic sequences. Raging back and forths, explosions of pent up resentment and anger, or in the case of Possession, the iconic, and spine shatteringly horrible (but mesmerising) subway sequence. One thing’s for sure though, these are the absolute worst ‘date night’ films you could possibly watch and probably not the best to watch after an argument with your other half.
What’s the best film you’ve seen about marriage? The most gruelling? How about positive examples? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on our twitter page @flickeringmyth.
Tom Jolliffe is (a happily married) award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/