Immediately, to the public of Malcolm & Marie, the new movie Netflix by Sam Levinson with Zendaya is John David Washington, it’s clear that the characters in the title have a tumultuous relationship – not just with each other, even with themselves. She is a former drug addict, as well as an actress with a slightly tired energy that hides a deep insecurity; he is a director and his insecurities spill over into emotional abuse of her. Their dynamic is unbalanced, beyond their significant age difference. He monologues, she listens. He absorbs all the air in the room, while she visibly suffocates.
The film itself was shot during the pandemic and overall, it delivers a metaphor for relationships during the lockdown. The story takes place entirely inside their home, over the course of an evening or so, and spans the entire emotional range – tension one moment, tenderness and love the next. They are trapped in that house, in that evening, in their heads and in their perception of the other. They argue, they say cruelty, they apologize and then start over. It becomes clear that these characters they love each other as much as they hate each other. It’s a roller coaster on an island that you can’t escape from. IS the relational lockdown.
MALCOLM & MARIE (LR): JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM, ZENDAYA as MARIE. DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX © 2021
© DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX © 2021
There is a huge exchange of wrongs between Malcolm and Marie. The worst is that Malcolm neglected to thank Marie that same night at the film’s premiere, which he wrote based largely on her life and in which he didn’t get her to play, despite her wanting the part. But there are many others clearly underway. Malcolm continues to bring out Marie’s drug addict past, her infidelity, her desperation: she responds by telling her boyfriend that he’s a mediocre director and that she agrees with a criticism he despises. And anyway, something keeps making them return to each other.
That something? Love, certainly not. It is codependency.
Self Malcolm & Marie it does not quite romanticize what it evidently is a toxic relationship full of emotional abuse e gaslighting (i.e. devious psychological manipulation), it doesn’t even do much to determine who is wrong or what should be done. The couple clearly have a strong bond, their lives are intertwined, and it’s hard to grasp where the good lies between them – but as an audience, we have to believe that there is good or, if not, why are we watching?
He is angry, belligerent, narcissistic and ready to win any arguments they have; she is injured, perhaps beyond recovery, and it is more and more during the evening and the relationship (as confirmed again and again by Malcolm who tells her “stop with that printed smile because you look like a fucking clown”, moments after telling her he loves her). However, at the end of the film, and after an exploit of strength that pours into his torn monologue, instead of walking away and ditching Malcolm as he knows he should, Marie appears to stay.
MALCOLM & MARIE (LR): JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM, ZENDAYA as MARIE. DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX © 2021.
© DOMINIC MILLER / NETFLIX © 2021
It is, of course, about an accurate portrait of the abuse. There are Education which show that emotional abuse, which can include verbal attacks, domination, control, isolation, ridicule, or the use of intimacy to degrade the other – all of the things we see between Malcolm and Marie – it’s common. About half of Americans report being abused by a partner during their lifetime. The pandemic and lockdowns, meanwhile, have aggravated this type of violence. While staying at home in Australia, Google has registered a 75 percent increase in support-related searches for domestic abuse, a surge that is replicated globally.
But, as is often the case in real life, if it’s easy to want Marie to leave Malcolm, it’s also easy to see why she won’t. On average, a woman will end a relationship seven times before actually ending it, according to US National Domestic Violence Hotline. In Marie’s case, there is an addiction: She has no one but Malcolm who knows her deepest, darkest and dirtiest secrets, and besides (as he remembers them), he helped her clean up. He also uses her suicide attempt as proof of how grateful he should be for not abandoning her. The whole relationship is a reproduction of his trauma: it just replaced one addiction with another.
Such a pattern is difficult to break even out of the pandemic: during a pandemic, and with all its limitations, it is almost impossible. There are, we can be sure, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of partners like Marie who have relationships that they may never be able to get out of, and they certainly won’t at a time when the world is closed at home and in the streets. of escape are few.
MALCOLM & MARIE (LR): ZENDAYA as MARIE, JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON as MALCOLM. NETFLIX © 2021
© NETFLIX © 2021
Malcolm & Marie it is not a love story, although many may see it as the story of a ‘complicated’ relationship between two people who are attracted to each other for reasons that must be respected. At the same time, others may see it as an illuminating representation of manipulation and gaslighting, a tragedy. It is, however, about a realistic story for many people and increasingly due to the pandemic. What can we learn from Malcolm & Marie? On the one hand, that many of us hurt the people we love the most, and this includes ourselves. On the other hand, that ‘complicated’ and ‘abusive’ are two very different things.
Malcolm & Marie is streaming now on Netflix. We recommend it!