2019 was a terrific year for films. It was a great comeback of Leonardo DiCaprio after his first Oscar-win in 2016 for The Revenant. An internationally acclaimed South Korean film, Parasite, landed a spot on the top 10 best movies of the year. It was also the year that the Marvel’s Avengers series beautifully ended. But what also highlighted 2019 was Marriage Story. It equally deserves to receive the same amount of praise as it is one of the most honest films not just of the year, but also of the decade.
Raw and relatability
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the film tells the story of the painful process of going through a divorce, how it is not as simple as fixing a ceiling with sturdy plasterboarding tools. Recent studies show the institutionalization of divorce today and how it’s now being anticipated when couples decide to get married. This is the message that Baumbach seems to be echoing to the audience — there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, and staying in love with each other is not enough to work it out. Naturally, marriages fall apart.
What’s great about the film is how it is organically told. Moreover, both sides of the story were heard, and the audience was being pulled to be part of that conversation as an observer. It’s hard to point fingers on who should be blamed since both were at fault. Baumbach didn’t need to create complicated characters to justify why Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) had to divorce. Charlie is a theater director in New York City, while Nicole is an aspiring film actress. The actors here did a great job because everything they did was believable and convincing. The most probable reason why the film was successful because anyone can relate to it, especially since the couple has a child, Henry. Kids experiencing the divorce of their parents are more distressful.
Another takeaway from the film is the independent role of women. The portrayal of marriage in this film didn’t abide by the traditional norms. The woman undergoing divorce had a choice and a voice, and she was not punished for having both. The moment Nicole left for Los Angeles to further pursue her dreams was the moment she was finally taking “control” of her life. It’s not that Charlie was consciously manipulative over her, but rather, she knew what was no longer working for her, and she acted on it. Taking off from that, Nicole was making smarter choices for herself and their son. She hired a lawyer when it wasn’t part of the agreement.
Despite the gruesome legal process of the divorce, the film ended with hope and clarity. There are no hints that Charlie and Nicole will get back together, but the viewers will get the everything-will-eventually-be-alright feeling. It’s an open-ended film, and one can sense that the couple will remain in touch, or even be friends, most likely because of their son whom they love deeply. There is no other right ending than amicably seeing Charlie and Nicole somewhat at peace with how their lives will be from then on.