Malcolm & Marie is a black and white romantic drama film that’s written, produced, and directed by Sam Levinson, and had its Netflix debut on February 5th, 2021. The screen invites us into the life of a filmmaker — Malcolm, played by John David Washington, who’s at the top of his Hollywood career thanks to the life story of his girlfriend Marie (played by Zendaya). The story recognizes Marie’s past as a drug addict and her eventual mental downfall. Both parties have hit a wall within their relationship, as their repressed emotions come to light. It’s this confrontation that begins to illuminate their fate and final breaking point.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoy the themes of this film. The cinematography is fluid with such realism, and the ability to capture the foundations of a relationship in the space of a private home is mesmerizing. However, the one question that many viewers seem to be left with — including myself — is “What elements make a relationship?”
We are shown many instances of arguments and heart-wrenching monologues that make us wonder if this is the ideal union to have with someone. Many critics, such as Rotten Tomatoes and the LA Times, say the film is a display of on-screen toxicity to the highest degree. Some scenes do carry a lot of intensity and don’t hit the ear, ego, or eyes quite right in that the on-screen arguments are not traditional from the audience’s outside perspective. After watching the film, I feel that both Washington and Zendaya delivered an honest depiction of what is and is not healthy between individuals within a modern-day relationship. It is very real, for this dynamic truly reflects how far we are willing to push each other at our limits when we project hurt and misunderstanding. The hardship and strife the film presents is not pretty, but it keeps us aware of how love can be dismissed when it should remain — even within the heat of a disagreement. Overall, there are a couple points I want to highlight from the film that have aided my own understanding of human bonds.
I shall note, THERE ARE NO SPOILERS WITHIN THESE OBSERVATIONS.
1. Relationship vs Union
A relationship in today’s society seems to hold nothing but a label. This makes things confusing when the true journey is the process of a union. A “relationship” is painted figuratively — presenting the “ideal.” What we see on TV and in advertisements conditions us for the surface level expectation, when a true union involves growth between two parties who are willing to persevere even when things get ugly. A union is the greatest element of understanding — not just your partner — but yourself, too. Malcolm wasn’t able to understand his intentions until Marie verbally put a mirror in front of him to show where he lacked in compassion.
2. Love Can’t Be Dismissed
We tend to let our emotions guide us, which can cause more harm than peace. I believe that even when you and your loved one reach an impasse, there should always be room for the love you’ve already discovered together. This film really speaks to how quickly we often dismiss the person we love just because of our indulgence in ego and emotion. Moments in the film reveal that both characters forget about their love until they are exhausted trying to prove a point.
As humans we tend to our egos the most, but not always in the best fashions. The challenge is to allow the ego to be present without giving it the stage. In many instances, Malcolm demonstrates egotism within his character as a whole, as his ego feeds his concept of victory. It’s not until he sees that his ego can also have negative consequences, that he is ultimately humbled.
How far is too far? I think we tend to forget that boundaries are something we subconsciously prioritize in our lives, especially when it comes to our bonds with people. I can see a lot of friction within this film, mainly caused by an overstepping of boundaries that truly doesn’t sit right with me at all. We have to remember whether platonic or romantic, we have to respect boundaries. Malcolm has a tendency to fuel his anger towards Marie by crossing many boundaries, especially regarding the vows he made with her.
Both actors give a powerful performance that may lead you to reflect and ponder your own knowledge of human connection. I believe that a relationship is whatever you pour into it. Knowing what elements keep you and your companions aligned, and then establishing these values in your moral compass, is a great starting point for building healthier relationships moving forward.
Photos from unsplash.com and netflix.com