Scenes From A Marriage (2021) | TV Review
by Ryan Raitt
Shortly into Hagai Levi’s remake of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973), a leading question gets presented to the couple at the forefront: what makes a relationship successful? It bewilders them. While they provide answers including love and respect, it remains clear that there’s a disconnect. Their relationship has never been interrogated quite as boldly, and it will never be the same again from this moment on. Much like Bergman’s original and the plethora of stories influenced from such, Levi’s Scenes from a Marriage (2021) is a striking and uncompromising examination of a relationship amid turmoil, one that reflects modern concerns with great significance and understanding.
While Levi’s take is a relatively faithful adaptation of Bergman’s masterpiece, it possesses a unique charm and many surprises. Cutting down from the original’s six episodes to only five and switching character traits allows for an interesting examination of monogamy and gender roles. The point subtly changes from looking at marriage to looking at society and its expectations. Mira (Jessica Chastain) showcases a fantastic portrayal of female sexual liberation, while Jonathan (Oscar Isaac) brilliantly displays male vulnerability and the struggles of maintaining a relationship through religious beliefs. The realism depicted through their arguments is emotionally investing; however, it’s their eventual acceptance of each other’s personality that lingers. We may not agree with, or even like, these characters by the end, but Levi never antagonises their desires in life. To make either party a villain would define success within a relationship, and Levi has already indicated that this is not his ambition. We are all flawed individuals, and Levi suggests that there’s nothing wrong with that.
photo courtesy of IMDb
Chastain and Isaac are both at the height of their powers throughout Marriage, displaying talent which proves that they are some of our finest actors working today.
Each episode opens with a fourth-wall-breaking display of the actors getting in character surrounded by socially distanced crew members wearing protective face coverings. It provides viewers with an interesting view of a film production during a pandemic but also subtly indicates why the series is concerned with the two leads and hardly anybody else. Chastain and Isaac’s conversations closely resemble the intricacy of a verbal chess match for the good part of five hours, and never once do they falter or need support from anyone else. The best episodes are where Chastain and Isaac are completely isolated from outside interactions and partake in conversations in real-time. If anything, the fourth-wall introductions for each episode can break the realism achieved, reminding us that both actors are just portraying characters, and that these conversations are completely fictitious.
If you are not familiar with Bergman’s original, Scenes from a Marriage can be seen to closely resemble the now-infamous argument scene in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (2019) but for the majority of its five-hour runtime. Tension builds as Mira and Jonathan try to break each other down while also attempting to justify their actions. However, each conversation is treated eloquently, never once exploiting the situations that either character finds themselves within.
In the end, the most unrealistic element of this fantastic mini-series is that either of these characters could find the other unattractive when they’re played by two of the most attractive people in the world.