Scenes from a Marriage (1973)

Human connection is a vital aspect of our daily functioning. It lends us security, comfort, solace, and even a breadth of opportunities. It also allows us to express our inner hopes and desires to others, with the prospect of attaining harmony and fulfilment. Conversely, crafting and sustaining these relationships can unfortunately be met with an underlying assumption that truth must be concealed for fear of judgment and reprehension. Our human core fears rejection, and these undeclared “differences” must be hidden from plain view to conserve our social pedestal. This den of secrecy can include friendships, parent-child and sibling relationships, and marriage whereby we must “please the other” while sacrificing our own integrity at times. The 1973 TV miniseries from Sweden entitled “Scenes from a Marriage” directed by the always introspective Ingmar Bergman examines the damage that this suppression of honesty can inflict upon a relationship.

Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann) are celebrating ten years of idyllic bliss with a magazine spread declaring their tips and tricks for a conflict-free marriage. Johan is a psychology professor at a prestigious institution, Marianne is ironically a divorce lawyer, and they have two beautiful children – the poster of familial perfection. Piece by piece, this picturesque facade crumbles. Over the six-part miniseries, their marriage is intimately dissected through pivotal interactions or “scenes” that occur over a ten-year period. Their relationship dissolves and reignites several times throughout this journey, and viewers learn that their actualities had always been concealed to appease those closest to them in their lives. The blossoming of their authenticity is therefore fundamental in ensuring the growth and sustainment of their connection.

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It has been previously mentioned that the series indeed is comprised of specific “scenes from a marriage”. Each episode provides us a snapshot into the much-needed, honest conversations that have been festering for many years in the lives of this couple. The simplicity of the cinematography and conviction of the lead actors force us to focus on the evolving genuine dialogue between them. It is well known that Bergman and Ullmann’s relationship was a great source of inspiration and material for this whole premise. This carefully composed examination is indeed a case of art imitating life or its past, and the palpability of this very common and relatable story remains exceedingly current.

In general, discussions on any topic may be quite effervescent and fleeting in their beginnings. Over time, they hold the power to drive opinions and shape perceptions. Our pre-existing views enter into discourse, subsequently influencing our presentation of topics and others’ interpretations of unfolding events. Furthermore, our individual worlds are the consequence of thousands of personal experiences and stories that we bring subconsciously into every interaction. This film is one glorious example of how these ideas culminate into expression and empathy within a relationship that mirrors many of our own truths and realities.

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I do not own the above photos in this post.

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Psychiatry is a relatively new discipline in medicine which has evolved quite rapidly. The mainstay of therapy less than a century ago was institutionalization. This method can undoubtedly isolate individuals, creating a deeper microcosm. Care evolved to include various surgeries and treatments that are recognized today as ineffective and some inhumane. While not perfect by any stretch, mental health care is now ideally multidisciplinary. Medications, counselling methods, and assertive community treatment (ACT) teams are among the resources used to help ensure optimal functioning in the daily lives of those living with mental illness. Integral to that piece is a caring, patient, and resilient psychiatrist, complementing holistic care and involving patients and families in decision-making. While set in the 1950s at the dawn of antipsychotic medications, Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer) exemplifies these essential qualities in A Beautiful Mind (2001) directed by Ron Howard.

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The film tells the remarkable journey of the late John Forbes Nash Jr., a renowned Nobel Prize-winning mathematician. The story begins in 1947 at the beginning of Nash’s undergraduate career. Russell Crowe earnestly portrays Nash as an aloof, introverted individual with a mind attuned to math and science. Nash’s opportunities and accolades within Princeton and later MIT grow, landing a teaching position at the latter. He later falls in love with and marries student Alicia Larde, beautifully portrayed in an Academy Award-winning role by Jennifer Connelly. With a promising future lies much turmoil, as William Parcher (Ed Harris) of the United States Department of Defense is becoming increasingly reliant on Nash’s abilities to decrypt enemy telecommunication. However, this quest to decode information along with other relationships reveal to be part of massive delusional belief systems. Nash’s physical health and safety suffer, and his marriage with Alicia is greatly tested with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The battle between reality and Nash’s own world is persistent and consistent. Recovering and relearning to function meaningfully and safely in society can take quite a long time, but Alicia’s and Dr. Rosen’s steadfast and attentive nature allows him to flourish.

A mind can be quite beautiful. It can create completely original pieces of art encouraging individuals to pursue further introspection. It can also formulate scientific theories to advance various types of research, benefitting the health and wellbeing of humanity. There may also be a division or duality within the mind, with some facets detracting from the necessary imaginative ingenuities. The actualization of ideas and fostering positive growth depends on a great deal of determination, ambition, and support from others. This concept was quite evident in this film, but it can be extremely applicable in knowledge acquisition and utilization on a global scale.

 

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I do not own the pictures in this post. As well, this is part of the Christopher Plummer Blogathon hosted by Sean Munger! Please have a look at other awesome posts celebrating the acting career and many diverse roles of this most excellent Canadian actor!

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Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Ingmar Bergman is one director who I feel has left a body of work that represents the complicated and sometimes disappointing reality of human nature. The intricacies of human relationships are on full display in his films, delving into associated stressors and supports. A great deal of time is devoted to essential character development, enhancing viewers’ understanding of said relationships. The cinematography is carefully composed with a haunting tone under the direction of frequent collaborator Sven Nykvist. These are all hallmark components to a Bergman film. However, I feel that the openness of the stories allows for much introspection and meaning applicable to one’s own life circumstances. Through a Glass Darkly is a 1961 Swedish Academy Award-winning drama directed by Bergman embodying these qualities in spades.

The film is set on a secluded island during the hot summer months, and events gradually unfold over a period of twenty-four hours amongst four principal characters. Karin (Harriet Andersson) is the central character, fragile in nature. She was recently discharged from a psychiatric facility, having been treated with electroconvulsive therapy and diagnosed presumably with a psychotic illness. She has an overarching delusion with religious overtones infused with auditory hallucinations, dictating and controlling a large amount of her decision-making and behaviour. Her husband, physician Martin (the legendary Max von Sydow), is extremely devoted to Karin and concerned for her well-being. Her father David (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is an ailing, self-serving writer who sometimes uses others’ suffering as subject matter for his novels. Her brother Minus (Lars Passgard) has an unhealthy, immature, and extremely close attachment to Karin, yearning for attention and approval from his father. It can be deduced from descriptions of these close-knit yet diverse group of characters that confusion, conflict, and lament fill their existence and interactions. Overall, I feel that the film challenges our thoughts on familial relationships, mental illness, death, culminating into a surprising yet inevitable finale.

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The title “Through a Glass Darkly” is derived from the following Corinthians verse:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Verses from the Bible or any manuscript based in religion can have a variety of interpretations by modern readers. In my humble opinion, this verse refers to our own self-image and beliefs. They may be distorted by multiple environmental and internal factors, casting a dark shadow on our true abilities and goals. As Karin states, “it’s so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it”. Recognition of illness and/or suppression by concerned and caring strangers, friends, and family can elevate our self-esteem and self-awareness. Our evolution into genuineness may be supported by them or shunned based on outside expectations. Regardless, a wealth of knowledge and soul-searching in our “face to face” meeting with either a higher power or ourselves stimulates pause for reflection on struggles and joys in our past.

As with many Bergman films, glimpses and explorations into human connectedness are in action. Minus wonders whether “if everyone is caged in. You in your cage, I in mine”. We all experience this sentiment in life at times, some more frequently than others. The truth is that we never act in isolation or in microcosms. Human nature and relationships are dynamic, changing, and influence our very being and direction on planet Earth.

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I do not own the pictures in this post. As well, this post is part of the “Favourite Director Blogathon” hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In! Please check out other posts about excellent directors in cinema that are a part of this blogathon!

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Terms of Endearment (1983)

The mother-daughter relationship is extremely layered and complex. All females in nature innately protect and nurture their loved ones, especially their young. This support can conversely be appreciated yet overwhelming at times. During adolescence, their children try to grow and explore their own individuality separate from perceived parental coddling and beliefs. Daughters may experience a great internal struggle, feeling obligated and even guilt in incorporating a sense of their mother’s character while discovering their selfhood. Mistakes, resentment, and conflict between mothers and daughters are imminent in this process. However, respect, love, and care remain at the centre of this relationship. This idea is at the heart of the Academy Award-winning 1983 film “Terms of Endearment” directed, produced, and written by James L. Brooks.

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Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger) have been living in a beautiful home in Houston, Texas since losing a husband and father. They have been the core of each others’ universes for a great deal of time. Emma marries Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), a local who aspires academia and is also not welcomed into the family by Aurora. The two eventually start a family and move to Des Moines, Iowa for Flap’s career, creating a wide physical distance between mother and daughter. Aurora eventually begins seeing her seeming opposite – the contentious, womanizing neighbour who happens to be a former astronaut, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). Throughout multiple life changes and obstacles over a decade, including further pregnancies, affairs, and illness, Emma and Aurora continue to proclaim and treasure their “terms of endearment” towards one another.

This film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning five. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), and Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson) were the categories nabbing the coveted golden men. The themes in this film surrounding resentment, acceptance, loss,and love are told in a highly relatable manner to all audience members with such care. Shirley MacLaine played Aurora with such heart and earnestness, and we could witness and appreciate her growth as a human being throughout the film. This particular evolution of acceptance is especially towards Jack Nicholson’s character. It is difficult to dissociate the legend that is Jack from many of his roles – his facial expressions, voice, and mannerisms are so unique and distinct. He often plays the ladies’ man with an edge, as he did in this role. However, we also witnessed his transformation into a devoted confidante. In my opinion, we could appreciate his struggle to make this change, as many individuals are torn in their ability to compromise in any new relationship. Overall, “Terms of Endearment” showcases the quintessential human experience through multiple stages of the life cycle.

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I do not own any of the photos in the post. As well, this post is part of the Here’s Jack Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget! Please check out other great posts celebrating the 80th birthday of the legend that is Jack Nicholson! As well, it is Shirley MacLaine’s 83rd birthday today, so let’s also toast to her acting excellence!

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Yi Yi (2000)

Films transport us through a vast ocean in the spectrum of emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, and pure bliss are just some examples. They also convey amplified yet sometimes realistic portrayals of life events which themselves stir the deepest sentiments in viewers. Those very tales may have occurred in the past, present, or are impending in the lives of those who are engulfed in the film’s reality. The beautiful 2000 film “Yi Yi” directed by Edward Yang is one of the greatest examples of everyday characters highly representative of many moviegoers. One of the characters in the film states that “movies give us twice what we get from daily life” by living vicariously through their eyes, hearts, thoughts, and actions.

The story focuses on the intergenerational Jian family from Taipei. Each member faces trials and tribulations that are central within their particular stages of life. The adorable eight-year-old Yang-Yang (Jonathan Chang) is quite the school prankster but is extremely inquisitive in trying to understand life’s truths. His teenage sister Ting-Ting (Kelly Lee) is challenged by friendship, loyalty, lust, and loss. Their parents, NJ (Nianzhen Wu) and Min-Min (Elaine Jin), are separately questioning the course of their life trajectories. Their maternal grandmother (Ruyun Tang) suffered a hemorrhagic stroke early in the film, and family members aim to provide care and comfort in her final days on Earth. The film also traverses through a variety of life events, including a wedding, a funeral, a business trip, a Buddhist retreat, and a birth. Many other characters interact through each family member’s storyline and these events, playing integral roles in reflection and personal growth via various interweaving perspectives and differences.

There was one exceptional detail of cinematography that I found quite intriguing in this film – the use of glass and mirrors. Often, there would be two differing scenarios reflected by two sides of glass, usually a windowpane. The simultaneous struggles of two separate individuals were mirrored within the same frame, alluding to humanity’s worldwide daily clashes and endeavours. The use of mirrors would reflect the emotions felt by the characters in a 360-degree realm, a point accentuated by Yang-Yang. He feels as if he needs to look at the back and front of a person to truly appreciate their emotional undercurrents, and this technique allows us as viewers to do the same.

The title “Yi Yi” translates to “A One and a Two”. That particular phrase is commonly used as a brief warm-up signal prior to a musical performance. In relation to the film, NJ reveals to a potential business partner that he ended a romantic relationship secondary to the partner’s lack of appreciation for music. That action impacted his future, just as decisions made within the arrangement of a musical composition can dictate many facets of its performance. Extending beyond that example, there are many within the film warning of probable conflicts. Approaches and compositions in preventing turmoil can be quite different. Every decision we make can have positive or negative consequences, and we must face the outcomes if possible with great composure and consideration. In other words, it is important to manage our roles in life patiently – one step at a time.

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I do not own the above image.

 

Fox and His Friends (1975)

Financial security is necessary for survival by humans in many jurisdictions of Planet Earth. This is usually achieved via employment, careful budgeting, and sometimes luck. This said luck grandiosely amplifies prior to an individual acquiring a great deal of wealth via other means, such as winning the lottery. However, sudden prosperity can evoke emotional confusion, exploitation, misguided self-worth, and a false sense of hope and stability. The dark side of perceived positive outcomes is an idea which many choose to ignore. “Fox and His Friends”, directed in 1975 by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, carefully examines this rollercoaster scenario and somewhat taboo topic.

Franz Bieberkopf a.k.a. “Fox”, played by Fassbinder himself, works as a “talking head” at a local carnival. The employment of all carnival workers is compromised when the owner and partner of Fox, Klaus (Karl Scheydt) is arrested for tax fraud. It is evident that the two share a strong bond, and that the relationship’s forced dissolution could foreshadow a troublesome future. Contrary to these immediate thoughts, Fox wins 500,000 marks in the lottery which seems to be highly prospective in resolving his lack of incoming finances. All must be right in the world in this instance, as he additionally falls into a social circle of prominent, wealthy gay men. Sophistication and self-absorption enamours them, which is quite different from Fox’s original group of friends he more infrequently associates with at a local bar. Ultimately, Fox’s elatedness and naivety fails to dissect the truth of surrounding lies within the new group of “friends”, and a tumultuous journey filled with backstabbing, manipulation, infidelity, greed, dishonesty, and loss of true identity ensues.

I feel as if there is a duality within the title of the film. Fox’s true group of friends remains present as he navigates this new bourgeois way of life. They are also of the same social class as Fox once was, and this creates a common link between them. The title of “friends” for the shinier new assembly is sarcastic and hypocritical, yet Fox is drawn to them as he aspires to bask in their glory and ascend the social class ladder. This facade of bought popularity and love tantalizes many gullible people, especially those who may be in the midst of discovering their true sense of self. Persons in positions of power may swarm to prey upon others to exploit for their own means, as was the case with Fox. Overall, I believe that this film is a strong reminder to the viewers to take quality time to cultivate one’s own personal growth and true relationships. While strong financial planning cannot be underestimated, individual maturation and life experience could potentially assist us to resist the temptation of entering and partaking in a false world.

 

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I do not own the above image.

La Notte (1961)

Relationships are constantly in a fluid state, and follow no prescribed formula. They are strengthened and weakened by monumental life events, small gestures, as well as geographical and emotional distance among a multitude of other variables. In turn, our self-worth and personal value is shaped by our sense of belonging. Marriage is the ultimate creation of partnership and potential enmeshment between two individuals, and its dissolution can create empowerment, disdain, or a void in the lives involved. “La Notte” (1961), the middle film in Michelangelo Antonioni’s trilogy of loneliness and emotional detachment, examines the decomposition of a marriage quite astutely.

Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lidia Pontano (Jeanne Moreau) are an upper middle class Italian couple, with the former being a successful writer and the latter being a housewife originating from wealth. The palliative illness of their dear friend and writer Tommaso (Bernhard Wicki) distresses Lidia greatly, detaching herself physically from her famous husband for a brief period of time to pay homage to areas of Milan they knew when they were in love, optimistic, and naive. The film later tracks the course of their empty marriage throughout a party hosted by a highly materialistic businessman, Mr. Gherardini (Vincenzo Corbella). The value of fidelity, honesty, connection, purpose, and sense of identity are questioned by the main as well as some supporting cast. As in L’Avventura (1960), it becomes evident that monetary wealth facades the essence of individuality.

The party referred to in the previous paragraph took place during “the night”. Life-altering events or revelations can evolve slowly or occur instantaneously during a short period of time, such as over the course of an evening. The blackness and finality of night itself can signify bleakness, reflection, and absolution. It is thus no coincidence that many characters’ awareness of self and interpretation of the present in the film, especially that of Lidia, occurs over this time frame. Cognizance of the limitations of self-indulgence and vanity can also lead to comprehension of our shortcomings, sensitizing humans to the reality of the twists and turns that occur daily in our lives. Although not fully explored in this challenging and rewarding film, I feel that this strength can create resiliency, allowing us to tackle and cope with an assembly of puzzles and problems.

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I do not own the above image.