"Scenes from a Marriage", HBO Series


“Scenes from a Marriage” on HBO, and why the series is interesting to me

I’ve watched the first two (of five) episodes of “Scenes from a Marriage” on HBO Max (2021, total for all series is about 5 hours).  The series, created and largely directed by Hagai Levi, is based on a similar 1973 series on Swedish television and 3 hour 1974 film by Ingmar Bergman. Each episode is called a “Scene”, stressing the idea that in a lifelong marriage, costs and consequences  for little gains or squabbles can play out for years.

Episode 1 is called “Innocence and Panic”.  It starts with a survey interviewing the couple: Jonathan (Oscar Isaac) a philosopher professor at Tufts near Boston, and Mira (Jessica Chastain), a technology executive for an Israeli company.  They have a four year old daughter, Ava (Sophia Kopera). Jonathan actually stays home more with the child than his jetsetting wife.

Soon they have a dinner party with another couple that admits to infidelity, even bragging about it.

Then Mira misses a pill and has to announce she is pregnant.  At first they talk about renovating the house to make another bedroom, but soon she is in a doctor’s office getting a pharmaceutical abortion.

Episode 2 is called “Poli”, named after Mira’s new boyfriend.  She returns early from a trip and tells Jonathan she has fallen in love with Poli, a much younger man and tech executive with whom she wants to leave on a trip the next day.  “I’m no longer attracted to you”.   Johnathan, who thinks he has done everyone right, suffers and mopes.  The infidelity roles are reversed from the 1973 series.  The new episode shows some people with masks, as to imply the passage of time into the pandemic (but then air travel and jetsetting would be harder).

(Remaining episodes viewed Christmas day.)

Episode 3 is titled “The Vale of Tears“.  The couple tries to reunite after eight months of separation and concern over their daughter. They attempt intimacy but Jonathan is not ready for it.

Episode 4 is titled “The Illiterates“.  Now the couple is dividing assets for a divorce, yet have one last intimate scene, quite vigorous and even anal.  Then they have a bitter fight.  Jonathan confides that he had wanted a second child as a sibling for Ava. He also notes that he had resented his financial dependence on her, as tech executives made more than academics. Mira had been fired from her job over the public fallout of their divorce.

Episode 5 is titled “In the Middle of the Night, in a Dark House, Somewhere in the World”.  A few years later, the couple reunites at a funeral and Johnathan takes Mira by their old house (symmetrical) which is now rented as an Airbnb.  How ironic, they stay their and relive better times in memories, and still love each other somewhat.  But Johnathan has remarried and had a son Ethan (before the marriage).

The music score, in waltz rhythm, is composed by Evgueni and Sacha Galperine but resembles Satie.  The miniseries appears to be filmed in a suburb upstate of NYC.

The progress of a heterosexual marriage when confronted with sudden, shocking external events is of some interest to me now, because the first of three extract screenplays from my books (related to backstories in “Second Epiphany”, more or less) is based on the narrative of my 1961 William and Mary expulsion, told from my parents’ viewpoint because the way it was communicated to them was shocking, and yes it could have threatened the marriage.  There was a long tail of consequences that makes classical screenwriting in a single movie script more difficult.

The series is rated TV-MA but as a film it would earn an R.

(Originally posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2021 at 12:30 PM EST)