Your view of Scenes From a Marriage will likely depend on your view of trainwrecks. Can you divert your eyes? For those of us who’ve seen way too many deteriorating relationships, one more is a step too far. So far, we’ve only seen the first of five episodes of HBO’s Scenes From a Marriage. It’s done well, but it certainly makes for some uncomfortable TV viewing. For example, Kate and Peter are over for dinner at Jonathan and Mira’s house. The two visitors begin to argue over their open relationship. When Peter suggests a better time and place for the accusations, Kate accuses him of “social fascism.” It goes downhill from there. Of course, Scenes From a Marriage is not about the marriage of Peter and Kate, but about that of Jonathan and Mira.
For you gluttons of punishment, the series opens with Danielle, a PhD student in Gender Studies and Psychology from Tufts, interviewing our “happy” couple. She can find few couples willing to talk about “how evolving gender norms affect monogamous marriage.” Even the academic Jonathan needs lots of definitions for this topic. Since the average marriage in the U.S. lasts 8.2 years, what is a successful marriage? Mira squirms in her seat through the session, clearly wanting to be anywhere else. Not only does this scene set up that with Peter and Kate, but a later conversation about ambivalence towards a pregnancy. “It’s painful wanting something and not wanting something at the same time,” bemoans Mira. The conclusion of the episode is even more painful to watch.
I give Scenes From a Marriage 4.0 Gavels for quality, but I will be diverting my eyes. For those of you who will continue to watch, It receives an 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 7.9/10 IMDb score.
Together for 12 years, married for ten, Jonathan and Mira reach a crisis point. Perhaps stirred by Kate’s demand for passion in her life, Mira recognizes that something must change. As the breadwinner in the family, is she holding back at home so as not to emasculate her husband? As a professor of philosophy, is his idea of a marriage too platonic for her? Given his Orthodox Jewish youth, has Jonathan suppressed too much emotion? Does Mira, Vice-president of Product Management for a major corporation who travels weekly, resent Jonathan for his ability to stay home and care for their four-year old daughter, Ava? The fissures are deep and wide.
Scenes From a Marriage further confirms that Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game, Ava) should be paid in the upper echelon of all actors. Mira’s pain is writ all over her face and body language. Pity poor Oscar Isaac (Star Wars; Rise of Skywalker) acting opposite such a powerhouse. Actually, Jonathan comes off a bit pompous and whiny, probably just what the role required. May there never be another actor more slimy than Corey Stoll (First Man). Does he justify his cheating by professing the benefits of an open relationship?
At times, the viewer feels like a voyeur listening to the private conversations of this wounded couple. Some of the times, we watch them do little more than brush their teeth. No earth-shattering conversations here, Scenes From a Marriage are just our ordinary, mundane lives. In this case, those lives are crumbling. In 1973, Ingmar Bergman relayed his experiences in his breakup with Liv Ullmann. After forty years, little changes in the realm of break-ups.
“What’s left is to watch the fireworks as Chastain and Isaac immolate one another, and those are indeed spectacular. But sitting through five hours of rage — that’s a big ask.” Variety
“As a whole, Scenes from a Marriage doesn’t always match the intensity of Chastain’s and Isaac’s performances. But when they burn white-hot, it’s difficult to look away.” RogerEbert.com
Clearly, Bergman wrote of his loss, his suffering. I’m sure it was cathartic. Just don’t ask me to suffer along with him.