Marriage Story Might Help You Understand Your Parents' Divorce
Divorce is an emotionally turbulent ride, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
Admittedly, I'm a little late to the hype train for Marriage Story, director Noah Baumbach's movie about a spiraling divorce between two people who still care about each other.
For months, seemingly every other article in the entire cine-sphere has been about how Marriage Story is Netflix's best movie of the year or how Adam Driver walked out of an interview after they showed a clip of him singing or how dancing Scarlett Johansson is a meme now.
So I got it. Marriage Story was supposed to be very good. But in spite of the accolades, I decided to hold off on watching it immediately. I had a feeling that, having grown up as a child of divorce, Marriage Story might induce some unpleasant flashbacks. I wanted to make sure I was in the right headspace to properly deal with that before going in.
To some extent, I was right. There are a lot of elements of Marriage Story that I imagine will drum up painful memories, both for people who have gone through divorces themselves and children who watched their parents go through the process. The most memorable scene in Marriage Story, perhaps, is the vicious argument between Adam Driver's Charlie and Scarlett Johansson's Nicole, wherein all of Charlie's pent up rage, both at Nicole and the divorce process, explodes. It's a scene absolutely surging with raw emotion, and it reminded me of all the fights I grew up watching at home.
But what truly makes Marriage Story great, aside from the impeccable performances from Driver and Johansson, is the catharsis it offers throughout. Baumbach's exploration of divorce is extremely nuanced, treating both of its lead characters with compassion and empathy. The movie opens with Charlie and Nicole reading letters that convey the things they love about one another, portraying both characters as exceedingly real. In the same way that sometimes people fall out of love over time, sometimes the same thing we once loved about someone transforms into something irreconcilable.
For instance, at one point in their relationship, Nicole loved Charlie's sense of direction in life and his ability to seemingly always know exactly what he wanted to do. But as their relationship proceeded, the downsides to that trait came into starker focus––Charlie always knew what he wanted to do, in large part, because he valued his own opinion and wants above everyone else's. Eventually, Nicole's love for that aspect of Charlie soured into the feeling that she had lost her own identity throughout their relationship.
The point to all of this is that, a lot of the time, children of divorce have a hard time reconciling two distinct images of their parents––the first image being their parents in a functioning relationship with one another and the second image being their parents as bitter enemies. Of course, this isn't true for all divorces, but it certainly was for me. Naturally, as children we oftentimes choose between our parents. But the beauty of Marriage Story is in its ability to show us an intricate, sometimes brutal conflict between two mostly decent people without making us pick a side.
Both Charlie and Nicole's hardships through the divorce process are on full display, and both believe that they're doing the right thing. They both love their son. Their relationship was complex, failing for multiple reasons, and their contempt is complicated by the fact that they both still care about one another. And after the dust settles, they figure out a way to be co-parents, even if it's not ideal for either party.
In a sense, Marriage Story is an almost wholesome view of divorce, ultimately conveying the message that even though divorce is harsh, brutal, awful even, eventually it will be over. And once it's over, people can heal, and people can change, and people who care about their children can continue to be there for them. My prevailing feeling by the end of Marriage Story wasn't bitterness or sadness, but hope. It's an emotionally turbulent ride, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
In the real world, people are much more complicated than whatever black-and-white images we may have of them from specific points in our lives. People change over time, and if they can change for the worse, maybe they can also change for the better. And while every relationship is certainly complex and entirely different, perhaps Marriage Story will help you look at whatever divorce lies in your past with a fresh perspective.
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