For anybody who has not seen the film Malcolm & Marie, I highly suggest you carve out some time between The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton to check out one of Netflix’s most debated relationship dramas where emotions run high.
We want to avoid spoiler alerts, as it is the only way to form your own true opinion without having online forums make you question your perception. Perhaps with a black and white film based entirely in one setting with only one actor and one actress, your hopes can’t be too high. That said, the storyline required us to dig deep – and frankly – we were taken aback. Throughout the film, and thereafter, we couldn’t help but recognize each of the relationship problems the couple revealed. In fact, they demonstrated those issues with a full-on, high-def, in-your-face display. The underlying issues, insecurities, and monologues in the film came directly from the not-so-pretty side of relationships—the side we try to hide or avoid—but are often very real.
Alas, this Atlantic piece, recently released, has a vastly different opinion. So, we challenge you to watch the film and come back with your own point of view.
Once you’ve done so, we encourage you to read how the examples below from the film exemplify a couple in dire need of Conversation Block™.
- Avoiding the problem or sweeping it under the rug
- The film starts out with Marie being overtly pissed-off while Malcolm struts around the house—high off his first movie premier. When confronted with what’s bothering her, she tells Malcom, “Nothing good is going to come of talking about it.”
- Not listening to each other
- When Marie reveals the problem from her perspective, Malcolm immediately gets defensive and goes on a rampage about her ruining his special night, instead of inquiring sincerely about the problem as she sees it. So much of the dialog in the movie came off as monologue versus two-way conversation.
- Bringing up past situations + not staying present
- The couple goes on to blame each, while throwing guilt trips about the times they each went out of their way for each other. Malcolm reminds Marie of how he helped her get clean as a former drug addict, aiming to rub salt in her wounds.
- Several times both Malcolm and Marie withdraw, somewhat to avoid further conflict but mostly to intentionally hurt the other with distance and separation. Marie leaves the house on more than one occasion without as much as a word to Malcolm to say she is leaving, where she is going, or if she’ll be coming back. Malcolm does the same, accompanied by alcohol consumption and the use of loud music to drown out his verbal tirades—or Marie’s responses.
- Acting out based on stories in our heads vs. what is true
- The actress who played the lead character in Malcolm’s newly premiered movie is named Taylor. There seems to be some ambiguous question and innuendo about Taylor’s and Malcolm’s relationship. Marie wonders how much of it is her imagination vs. what is true of their working relationship. Likewise, Malcolm is seen shadowboxing in a field outside the house, while he agrees vehemently with the voices in his head and what they are saying about what is wrong with Marie.
- Criticizing + using violent and inflammatory language
- Throughout the film the couple’s fight gets more and more heated. They make points to purposely hurt each with claims and accusations of entitlement, narcissism, degrading each other’s work, selfishness, etc.
- Scene after scene showcase Malcolm and Marie using a variety of defensiveness tactics—portraying themselves as the victim and reversing the blame. Rarely to they take responsibility for their own actions. On a few occasions, they do offer an apology to each other for their wrongdoing, but it was overshadowed by the self-justifications that came along with it.
- Unhealthy boundaries + codependence
- From the moment the film begins, Marie cooks Malcolm a box of Mac n’ Cheese, as if he couldn’t himself. Every time Marie disappears or steps outside, Malcolm anxiously calls out her name. In one poignant scene, Malcolm acts as a mirror for Marie (though in an accusatory rather than helpful way) and says that she can’t fathom that someone simply loves her for her—flaws and all—because she doesn’t love herself.
- Familiarity breeding contempt and blunting curiosity
- Marie overtly cites this as one of the causes of their relationship strife. Her commentary was along the lines of when you admit you have someone, the mystery and tension dissolve, and there is no more curiosity about the other. And, in their case, familiarity bred visceral contempt.
- Not recognizing or reciprocating bids for connection
- A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. Both Malcolm and Marie did make bids for the other’s connection; however, things got in the way. Marie’s bid of making Mac ‘N Cheese for Malcolm went unnoticed. Malcolm’s bid to connect physically with Marie was reciprocated in a short-lived scene while they laid on the couch together and she playfully joked with Malcolm. But in other instances, it was rebuffed or delayed past the point of no return.
- Seeing each other as the problem vs. teaming up to solve the real issue(s)
- From the beginning, it’s clear that Malcolm and Marie see each other as wrong, self-centered, needy and/or crazy. They each willingly gave in to their primal, ego-driven need to go for the jugular and win at all costs. In fact, at certain points in the movie, each said out loud that they were about to take the other person down. Rather than using that forewarning as a red flag to stop themselves and regroup, instead they proceeded headlong to do so, sometimes with gleeful ruthlessness.
- Not feeling appreciated + keeping score
- The film concludes with Marie giving a heartfelt and prolonged message to Malcolm. She expresses a litany the things she feels he didn’t do for her in contrast to all those she not only did for him, but sacrificed for him, converting it into all she ever wanted was a “thank you.” As for Malcolm, throughout the film he recites a long list of things he has done for Marie but feels he hasn’t gotten appropriate credit or recognition for.
What Was Missing All Along
Communication. Conscious, healthy, productive communication. The kind that brings people closer together, even through high emotions.
From the beginning it was clear this film is about a couple who holds everything inside. They didn’t tell each other what they may have felt in their hearts; “You inspire me.” They didn’t ask: “What do you truly want?” or “Am I helping you to get it?”
There were insecurities that neither Marie, nor Malcom, ever spoke of. Both may have had underlying feelings that what they were striving for—or who they are—was not good enough.
Though they did pay some attention to their partners behaviors, they were not fully present with each other. Malcolm and Marie chose not to have open communication to address any inklings they probably had along the way.
Most importantly, they forgot not to take each other for granted. We need to appreciate the other person who is there for us during our lowest points and who supports us as we “come-up.” Then we need someone to help champion who we are so we can own our life story and grow. And in healthy, fulfilling relationships, we also need to be that for the other person.