Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story begins with a man and a woman remembering the good things about each other. The rest of the film is about that man and woman coming apart. It is interesting that it happened that way. It is as if the filmmaker is deliberately welcoming us into these intimate, happy moments of this couple’s life before presenting us with the cruel present where they are divorcing each other. It is to keep things in perspective so as and when the divorce is happening, the audience’s mind goes back to that first shot when they seemed so in love and wonder how they end up in this situation.
Marriage Story, and as Baumbach seemed to have implied in countless interviews, is more about marriage than divorce, more about hope than loss and separation, more of coming together than growing apart. Nicole (Scarlet Johannsson), an actress and Charlie(Adam Driver), the theatre director are going through a fraught divorce. They have a child, Henry, and they have decided that the separation is going to be friendly until the lawyers enter the scene and it is not so friendly anymore.
The story works around the notion of how you understand something only through its absence. Nicole’s and Charlie’s marriage becomes much clearer because it is not there anymore. They both are creative people whose individuality was lost in the marriage. Charlie’s ambition of doing so much in his 20s with his sudden popularity as a director is shut down with his marriage. Nicole loses her acting career in films because she married and moved to New York with her husband. It would be a grave folly on the part of the audience of to take a side because the story is telling us that you can’t take sides.
There is a remarkable scene where Nicole and Charlie are in a room together finally deciding to talk about themselves. It begins with silence, then discussion, gradually building up to screaming and shouting till Charlie lies down on his feet, completely breaking down, and Nicole slowly advances towards him and rubs his back.
It is a love story. These are two loving, caring people very much in the process of trying to find themselves than anything else. Nicole talks about losing her voice during marriage and both her and her husband are trying to find it by coming out of it. She is the actress and he, the director. By the end of it, the roles are reversed. It is Nicole who is directing, metaphorically her life, and literally for which she has been nominated at the Emmys. It is Charlie who is performing a song in a bar. However, both of them have found their respective voices.
In the last scene, as Charlie is going with his child Henry, Nicole stops him and ties his school lace; she also orders for him in the diner when he doesn’t know what to eat. It is the moments like these that make the Marriage Story so much more than a divorce between a couple. The only antagonists in the film are lawyers who are so entrenched in the business part of their work that they don’t realize that their clients are human, not products. That two people in a marriage cannot be helped through the courtroom drama.
Marriage Story is about love; it is about people who are complicated and caring and grey and sad and happy. Charlie singing “Somebody crowd me with love/somebody force me to care” pretty much sums up the film’s themes — everybody wants to be loved, to be seen. I have a feeling that Noah Baumbach could easily have titled the film as something about separation. But he chose to call it exactly the opposite of what the rest of the film contains — or if I may say, exactly what the film contains.
Watch Marriage Story on Netflix now and let us know your views:)
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