Netflix’s Marriage Story
By QUYNH (STEPHANIE) BUI | March 1, 2020
*Spoiler Alert: The article includes and discusses details of the film.
The critically acclaimed Netflix original Marriage Story received multiple nominations for the Oscars this year (with Laura Dern winning Best Supporting Actress), for its painfully intense yet realistic depiction of love, marriage and divorce. As an in-house movie fanatic, Marriage Story offers new perspectives that I, as an inherently single person, have never experienced before. Here are six lessons that Marriage Story has taught me about love.
The film follows the divorce of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver). Although the movie starts off slowly, the pain and bitterness of the disintegrating marriage soon surface over the fight for the custody rights of their son Henry (Azhy Robertson). One of the film’s most remarkable scenes is the heated argument between Nicole and Charlie where they hatefully blame each other for their failing marriage. Although the audience can sense the remnants of love which the couple has once shared, it is now clouded by anger, frustration, and pain. This made me realize that love and hatred are not far apart from each other. Love can bring out the best in people, but it can also bring out the worst.
The absence of communication and the reluctance to open up is portrayed as the root cause for the couple’s failing marriage. On the one hand, Nicole wishes for her family to move to her hometown in California, but she chooses not to clearly express her desires to her husband. Charlie, on the other hand, brushes off any signal from his wife and instead devotes himself to his position as a theatre director. These underlying issues surface at last when Charlie and Nicole try to unravel the reasons for their failing marriage.
As a single person, I imagine three key components every marriage should have: happiness, sacrifice, and acceptance. Although Nicole and Charlie share tremendous love between each other, they are inherently very different people. As they lack these three components in their relationship, neither of them is willing to look past their disagreements or accept each others differences. While the audience only gets to see their relationship at the last and worst stage, the film cleverly depicts the incompatibility between the two characters. From the very beginning, their marriage was built on unstable ground and, thus, it falls apart.
I believe that both partners are equally at fault for the collapse of their marriage. Charlie is selfish and always puts himself first. Although Charlie does not completely disregard his wife, he does not put effort into understanding Nicole’s feelings. He simply assumes that she agrees with all of his decisions. Furthermore, Charlie stubbornly insists on having his son stay in New York, where his theater company is located. He loves his son dearly and devotes a lot of time to him, yet, he does not listen to what Henry actually wants.
Nicole is the complete opposite of Charlie. She is caring yet unassertive and does not speak up. Inherently insecure, she has tied her identity to her marriage with Charlie. Because of him, she has moved to New York and started to work as an actress for his theatre company. Nicole’s lawyer (Laura Dern), helps Nicole to realize that her confidence and sense of identity is tied to her role as a wife and mother. Inevitably, all of Nicole’s pent-up anger and internalized grief unleash during the divorce process as her identity falls apart.
This stark contrast between the two personalities eventually takes its toll. Their selfishness and insecurity push them towards the desire for “victory” and make them manipulative towards their son and vindictive to one another.
The first scene in the movie where Charlie and Nicole talk about the things they love about each other is emotional and confusing. As the film’s premise is based on their impending divorce, one would not expect the couple to speak so fondly of one another. What surprised me the most was how the couple recognizes the little things which they used to do for each other. Although the film proceeds to showcase their marital breakdown, this scene provides proof for the love which gradually got lost over the course of the relationship.
Marriage Story, ironically, is not a story about marriage. It is a story about separation and how seperation salvages the love and respect between the two main characters. It turns out that Charlie and Nicole have not fallen out of love and instead, their relationship as a family grows stronger after the divorce. Nicole reclaims her voice, while Charlie becomes more accepting and forthcoming- character traits that both individuals have lost in their marriage. What makes this story so intriguing to me is how the couple hated and loved each other at the same time. Charlie and Nicole’s story ends on a bittersweet note: Both characters are divorced but not entirely separated. They manage to find their individual happiness amidst the remnants of their relationship. Love does not come in only one form but many.
My favorite scene from Marriage Story is unarguably when Charlie lies bleeding on the floor after accidentally cutting himself and his son shows no interest in the state of his father. This scene moved me in many ways as it depicts how despite Charlie’s strenuous effort to appeal to his son, he cannot control his son’s feelings. It showcases the vulnerability and resignation of Charlie as he realizes how he had truly lost his family and cannot win them back.