As someone who has never gotten married or divorced, I never understood why two people decide to part ways after years of marriage or why two people stay in an unhappy marriage for so many years. I always thought that the reason two people part ways had to do with infidelity or abuse or falling out of love, but Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story gave me a new perspective on relationships and marriages. It made me look at the little things, that go unnoticed and unacknowledged, and keep compounding over the years. Just like we cannot have one reason to fall in love, we also cannot have one reason to fall out of love.
In the opening scene of Marriage Story, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) are reading out wedding-like speeches that they have written for each other except these speeches are homework letters, assigned to them by their therapist, to help them navigate their separation peacefully. Much like the wedding speeches, the contents of these letters also revolve around what one loves about the other. But unlike the wedding speeches, these letters are not read to each other. After this scene, one wonders if they are still in love and if they would part ways if they read out their letters to each other. Few minutes into the film, one begins to notice the cracks in their relationship, be it in the uncomfortable silences or in the hesitancy in expressing their thoughts and feelings to each other. These are not the result of that one fight or argument that happened a couple of days ago, rather it feels like a culmination of many different things that just kept piling on.
Growing up, I also felt that love was enough to sustain any relationship and that loving someone meant also admiring them, acknowledging their efforts and respecting them. I thought that love includes all of these things and much more. Marriage Story challenged this idea of love that by default includes respect and admiration. In one of the most heart wrenching scenes of the film, Charlie is reading Nicole's letter in which she mentions that she can never stop loving him even though it didn't make sense, given their separation. Charlie also loves Nicole but he does not admire her as a professional the way she does. The film also points out the fact that two people can have different ideas about love. Charlie sees Nicole as a part of himself where as Nicole wants be her own person independent of Charlie.
Unlike a relationship, marriage involves the state and the state has laws. However painful it might be, Nicole and Charlie must go through the legal proceedings, where things are blown out of proportion. Even if one still has some love and respect for one's spouse, the legal proceedings always remind one of the one or two terrible things about one's spouse. With the help of lawyers who see it as a case they need to win, Nicole and Charlie, too are made to forget the reason why they chose to get married. The proceedings fail to see them as human, with needs, desires, fears and insecurities. Their relationship becomes a public discourse, the ups and downs of which are now up for discussion and debate. It made me think about the idea of marriage, as an institution that involves the state.
While watching the film, I went from hoping that Nicole and Charlie read each other's note on what they love about each other and not choose to separate, to feeling that Nicole should really leave Charlie because he cheated on her to thinking about whether Nicole should have involved the lawyers to getting angry at Charlie for just thinking about himself and his career to understanding that the separation was necessary for the both of them and that it did not mean they were out of love. There are no easy answers when it comes to love, relationships and marriage. Through Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach made me go through several emotions, he also made me think about these emotions. He made me question my ideas of love and confront my biases. Marriage Story is one of the most nuanced films on broken marriages that I have ever seen.