F ifteen minutes into Malcolm & Marie, Sam Levinson’s black-and-white Netflix film about a conceited filmmaker and his partner, we hear the word “abuse”. Malcolm (John David Washington) is sitting at the cooking area table eating mac and cheese, verbally tearing into his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) in between mouthfuls.
” You’re mentally unsteady,” he yells. “F *** ing delusional!” Goaded by her boyfriend of five years, Marie soon emerges on the other side of the room: “Are you in fact shouting and belittling me from throughout this home due to the fact that you are too hectic eating mac and cheese?” she retorts. “Do you understand how disturbing it is that you can compartmentalise to such a degree that you can abuse me while eating mac and cheese?” This gets Malcolm’s attention. “Abuse you?” he scoffs. “Verbally abuse me.” Marie responds, prompting Malcolm to thank her for the “essential clarification” before informing her to “get the f *** outta here”.
This is just one of the many unpleasant events in the movie. The story stems from a singular argument over Malcolm’s failure to thank Marie in his speech at the premiere of his film previously at night. A movie that, Marie argues, is based upon her history with depression, dependency and ultimate healing to sobriety. However as the movie unfolds, it becomes clear that the fractures in their relationship run deep. Theirs is a love complicated by power imbalances, age differences, and the seductive toxicity of a push-pull dynamic that keeps them in a continuous state of being both enthralled and infuriated by one another.
Critics have rebuked the film’s self-importance, with some even calling it pretentious. But what is most worrying is the way that Malcolm & Marie has existed. Not as a movie about an emotionally abusive relationship, but as a romance. The description on Netflix, for example, recommendations a “turbulent night [that] will evaluate the limitations of their love”, while advertising product carries the tagline “incredibly in love”. Even Levinson himself has actually admitted that he does not even know if this relationship is healthy or harmful, a concern he clearly puts to the audience at the end of the film by playing Outkast’s “Liberation”, which carries the refrain “there’s a fine line between love and hate”.
However viewers are not quite as ambivalent, with many encouraging survivors of abuse to think twice previously watching it. “I tuned into this film in assistance of Zendaya and due to the fact that it was marketed as a film about love, in my opinion it is never about love in any capacity,” tweeted someone. Another added: “It is interesting that they marketed it as a romance when it is the extremely opposite. It is a story of emotional and mental abuse within a romantic relationship.” Others focused on the uniqueness of Malcolm’s behaviour. “The way he was chewing out her, insulting her, and gaslighting her did not sit ideal with me at all and made me really distressed,” noted one viewer. Another included: “Malcolm and Marie was just a movie narrating emotional abuse, you can’t encourage me otherwise.”
Sanctuary, the UK’s nationwide charity for supporting domestic abuse survivors, states that there are different types of behaviour that could be thought about mental abuse. These include name-calling, hazards, manipulation, gaslighting, and being lovely right away after being abusive. But, as the charity Relate shows, this kind of abuse is frequently considered a “grey area”. Indeed, it was just last year that the federal government passed a costs that would see psychological abuse lawfully identified as a criminal activity as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21. The bill emphasises that domestic abuse “is not just physical violence, but can likewise be psychological, coercive or managing, and economic abuse”, the federal government site states.
We see a lot of the aforementioned behaviour in Malcolm & Marie. Throughout the film, the 2 lead characters dissect and dismantle one another’s characters with harsh accuracy as if it were a competition to see who can trigger the most psychological pain. She criticises his ego, calls him “mediocre”, and controls him into thinking she’s still utilizing drugs, even going as far as sleeping with his good friends in order to show a point. However it is Malcolm whose words sting one of the most.
He calls her “envious” when she tries to discuss how hurt she was that Malcolm didn’t cast her, a previous star, in his movie, exploits her history with dependency to belittle her (” that’s what makes you so f *** ing special, ideal?”), and throws her suicide attempt in her face. Malcolm raises the distinctions in between physical and verbal abuse in an attempt to recommend the latter is less bothersome. If anything, this movie is a workout in illustrating why that is not the case.
Like in numerous hazardous relationships, for Malcolm and Marie, their sex life is not moistened by their dysfunction, but fuelled by it. One moment they’re shouting in one another’s faces and the next, they’re smothering each other in kisses with the very same degree of enthusiasm. However even when the sounds the characters make are those of satisfaction instead of pain, they’re not doing any less damage to one another, keeps in mind senior therapist Sally Baker. “In emotionally abusive relationships, sex can become simply transactional,” she says, noting how, in one scene, Marie looks as if she is going to carry out oral sex on Malcolm so he cools down before raising another issue she had with his movie.
” The scenes where they’re all over each other are no different from their argument scenes,” Baker includes. “Both are characterised by fury, vengeance, and adrenalin.” Malcolm highlights this dichotomy himself towards completion of the film, when he informs Marie that he goes from wanting to “cut [her] head off” one minute to wanting to “kiss [her] lovely foolish little face the next”. Moments later on, he asks Marie if they ought to get married, due to the fact that he feels like they’re going to get wed and separated “a minimum of” a number of times so they may also get started. They begin kissing, and then it’s back to arguing again.
All this, Baker argues, demonstrates how normalised abusive relationships have actually ended up being for many people. “It was unsightly and triggering to see the way their dynamic is presented,” she adds. This is likewise restated at the end of the film, when Malcolm gets up the next morning to discover Marie standing alone outside their property. He stands next to her in silence, leaving the viewer with an anxious feeling that a repeat of the previous night is not far away for this couple. And as long as they are together, it never ever will be.