Roush Review: Devastating ‘Scenes’ From a Rocky Marriage

Scenes From a Marriage

Jonathan and Mira were meant for each other. Until they weren’t. Or were they ever? Love means never being able to truly let go, even when it’s all over, in writer-director Hagai Levi’s (In Treatment, The Affair) devastating five-part adaptation of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s acclaimed 1973 miniseries.

Working with playwright Amy Herzog, Levi constructs many of these episodic “scenes”—which play out over several turbulent years—as an explosively emotional one-act drama, largely taking place in the couple’s deceptively cozy Massachusetts home. We watch the brilliant stars (Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, at the soul-baring top of their game) approach the soundstage as they get into character, exposing the artifice before subjecting us to a wrenching series of confrontations and difficult no-going-back conversations. These unnervingly intimate dark nights of the shattered psyche feel all too raw, honest and real.

The quieter Marriage gets, the deeper the pain as the analytical Jonathan, a philosophy professor, tries to understand the restlessness and dissatisfaction of Mira, a rising tech executive, 10 years into what’s seen by all as a successful relationship (with an adorable, usually offscreen daughter). The mood can shift with disorienting speed from tenderness and sorrow to sensuality and cruelty and, at its worst, violent rage. Even as the two draw apart, they often cling to each other, roiled by their confusing and contradictory feelings.

The actors’ incredible emotional transparency provides a textbook illustration of irreconcilable differences. They amaze and puzzle, infuriate and stimulate each other. We’ve often heard that the heart wants what it wants, but what about when it doesn’t?

At different times, each character makes a dramatic and climactic exit to rival that of Nora in Ibsen’s classic A Doll’s House. It’s an acting tour de force, to be sure, impossible to look away from even when it’s almost too difficult to watch.

When Jonathan admits, “I’ll never love anybody the way that I loved you,” years after the histrionic dust settles and the mutual bitterness has ebbed, there’s a deep sadness to the realization. This is a love story that’s all about saying you’re sorry—for not opening up enough when it mattered, and for opening up too much and saying things that can never be unheard.

Scenes From a Marriage, Series Premiere, Sunday, September 12, 9/8c, HBO