‘Marriage Story’ Is A Predictable Feminist Screed

‘Marriage Story’ Is A Predictable Feminist Screed

At the end of the day, 'Marriage Story' is a film about a competitive marriage in which the wife disempowers her husband in order to empower herself.
Suzanne Venker
By

The film “Marriage Story” — available now in select theaters, as well as on Netflix — perpetuates feminist dogma, attempting to garner sympathy for a woman who initiates an avoidable divorce, driven by her desire to emancipate herself at the expense of their child, whose feelings are considered entirely secondary. It hit a nerve for one unfortunate reason: Many married couples can relate.

“Marriage Story” is billed as an intense drama about a stage director and his actor wife “who struggle through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.” Although the couple has an 8-year-old son, the focus of the film is almost exclusively on adults Charlie and Nicole, played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, respectively. It’s about their feelings, their choices, their needs, and their desires in the wake of their separation.

Or rather, it’s about Nicole’s feelings, Nicole’s choices, Nicole’s needs, and Nicole’s desires. Charlie just goes along for the ride. What choice does he have? Based on a 2017 report by Stanford’s Michael Rosenfeld, this story seems to align with divorce trends, as women initiate 69 percent of divorces in the United States.

Indeed, “Marriage Story” is a predictable feminist screed. Its message couldn’t have been more glaring if it tried: Marriage is a jail sentence for women. If you’re not happy, leave. Oh, and take the kid with you. And while you’re at it, you might as well sabotage your husband’s livelihood, forcing him to uproot the life you both built and move across the country in order to be able to see his son for half the amount of time he normally would, thereby irrevocably altering the course of this father-son relationship — particularly since Nicole’s new man has entered the equation.

All of this is done on behalf of Nicole, whose marriage has supposedly oppressed her. Her husband is a director while Nicole is merely an actor, a job she doesn’t want but for years has felt compelled to accept as a result of being the primary caregiver to their son Henry.

Nicole gets a chance to star in a television show back in L.A., where she’s from, despite the fact that the couple’s actual life — as Charlie reiterates several times in the film — is in New York. Viewers eventually learn Nicole has been seething with jealousy over her husband’s success and wants to be a director, too. Moving to L.A. presents her with that opportunity.

‘Marriage Story’ Perpetuates an Anti-Man Narrative

The film not only centers on this theme but is sympathetic to it, even though it results in tearing apart a family. The hope is that viewers will understand this modern family tale because the only way “equality” can work is if both parents can pursue their respective career ambitions, no matter the fallout.

This narrative is ultimately drilled home by Nora, Nicole’s cutthroat divorce lawyer, played by Laura Dern. While Nicole initially tries to make her divorce amicable, Nora has other plans and successfully convinces Nicole to change course. In the latter half of the film, Nora recites this feminist monologue:

We don’t accept [the failings of mothers] structurally, and we don’t accept it spiritually. Because the basis of our Judeo-Christian whatever is Mary, mother of Jesus, and she’s perfect. She’s a virgin who gives birth, unwaveringly supports her child, and holds his dead body when he’s gone. And the dad isn’t there. He didn’t even do the f-cking. God is in heaven. God is the father, and God didn’t show up. So you have to be perfect, and Charlie can be a f-ck up, and it doesn’t matter. You will always be held to a different, higher standard. And it’s f-cked up, but that is the way it is.

And there it is. That’s why Charlie has the rug pulled out from under him: He needs to pay for being a man. Retribution for that attribute seems to matter more to Nicole than even Charlie’s extramarital affair.

Divorce Is No Love Story

If you google “Marriage Story,” you’ll learn it has already won awards, and plenty of writers have chimed in to give their two cents on the film. “Saturday Night Live” even aired a parody using Kellyanne Conway’s marriage to her husband George.

What you won’t learn is that “Marriage Story” beautifully demonstrates the madness of modern-day childhood. No one’s supposed to mention that because to look at what’s happened between Charlie and Nicole through Henry’s eyes would destroy the narrative. To focus on what writer and director Noah Baumbach wanted to — “telling a love story by doing it in the course of a divorce” — it is crucial to dismiss Henry’s needs, because to a child, divorce is no love story.

In the real world, the implosion of Charlie and Nicole’s salvageable marriage would leave behind collateral damage and wounds for Henry that may never heal. And for what?

“I’ve sat with couples like that and given them a chance to really air their inner experience, learn, and mobilize from that,” marriage and sex therapist Ian Kerner said in an Atlantic interview about “Marriage Story.” “So I just felt like, why are they getting divorced? Do they really need to be getting divorced right now? They’re able to go to vulnerable, tender places. They’re able to like each other; they each have their subjective experiences of what occurred in the marriage. But I felt like there was a real potential for them to hear and learn from each other. They had the capacity to learn.”

Divorce Wrecks Children’s Lives

How empowering it would have been for other struggling couples — real ones, I mean — to watch a husband and wife grapple with hard choices yet wind up together for the sake of the family unit. At the very least, Nicole could have waited until Henry was grown and gone to serve Charlie divorce papers.

And by that time, the circumstances would likely be different. Research shows couples who were once unhappy in their marriages felt the opposite five years later. According to this 2016 survey, 22 percent of more than 800 divorcees wished they hadn’t ended their marriage.

Unfortunately, in “Marriage Story,” Henry is an afterthought. He knows his parents love him, but he’s not too young to know that if it weren’t for him, his mother would have the career she so desperately desires. While he feels the floor beneath him giving way as he begins the process of losing his dad — because no matter how much we insist he isn’t “losing” his dad, that’s exactly what it feels like to him — we see no evidence of it.

On the contrary, at the end of the film, we see Henry running around his new home as he plays lightsabers with his mother’s boyfriend, when his dad walks in and has to ask his son for a hug. Those who think this is an acceptable price to pay for a wife’s emancipation need their heads examined.

To Henry, his parents’ divorce is no love story. If anything, what he’s learned is that love doesn’t last. He will take this realization with him out into the world — and very likely repeat it.

At the end of the day, “Marriage Story” is a film about a competitive marriage in which the wife disempowers her husband in order to empower herself. According to Hollywood, this is “conscious uncoupling.” It’s forward-thinking and progressive, a good ’ole modern-day love story.

To a child, it’s hell.

Suzanne Venker is an author, columnist, and relationship coach. She helps women let go of feminist beliefs that undermine their ability to create happy lives and find lasting love with men. Her newest book, "Women Who Win at Love: How to Build a Relationship That Lasts," published in October 2019.

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