Malcolm And Marie Shines A Much Needed Light On Domestic Violence
So, I’ve waited for this film for, what seems like, forever! I’ve sat myself down in front of my large screen TV, legs comfortably on the sofa, a glass of wine in one hand and a remote control in the other, while some fine cheese is nicely set on a platter on my coffee table. A perfect Friday. Namely, the 5th of February was the day when Malcolm and Marie premiered on Netflix in the UK. I was excited, ecstatic and curious all at once and I couldn’t wait to find out what this film was to hold in store for me. Little did I know that what I was about to see would be so insightful.
The film starts and I can already tell this is going to be special. I’m instantly mesmerised by the monochrome technique, I’m loving the music and the setting. But damn… I only needed to wait for a bit longer to realise – I am absolutely loving the phenomenal dialogue!
Oh, that dialogue! The script, I mean. I am hooked straight away. The way Marie makes her point and carries her message through is so powerful. Masterful work indeed. It’s hard to believe that this was written by a man. To have such a deep insight into what a woman feels and goes through in a (abusive) relationship with a man. It surely is remarkable. However, I find it hard to understand that the writing of this film got such mixed, if not negative, reviews elsewhere.
Malcolm and Marie get home from Malcolm’s movie premier where he thanked everyone for their support and help in making his film, except for Marie. They are awaiting reviews and staying up. Malcolm is being difficult while Marie tries to gracefully put up with his tantrums and cook him a meal.
Marie is graceful, masterly portrayed by the wonderful Zendaya, while Malcolm, played by the talented John David Washington, is, in my opinion, insecure and self-absorbed man who tries to compensate for his insecurities with overly-cocky behaviour which is borderline, if not downright, abusive. Marie is fast to understand his ploy and calls him an “emotional terrorist”. She is in fact quite right. Malcolm seems quite respectful and ass-kissing to others, but at the expense of taking his elsewhere acquired frustrations out on Marie. That is like an old song of all abusers, isn’t it?
He seems to me as someone who compensates for not being able to stand up for himself for everything he feels is wrong in his life by being emotionally abusive towards Marie. He uses Marie’s personal stories she has kindly shared with him as a weapon against her. He speaks ill of her and deliberately divulges certain of his encounters with other women, whom, we realise, he considers to be low-lifes or loose women, to intentionally hurt Marie. What is more demeaning, he draws comparisons between these women and Marie.
Moreover, even though he wrote a film for which Marie feels is a story about her life, he refuses to give her any credit for it. In fact, so much so, he was able to thank everyone for their contribution and support except for Marie. Marie feels she had read the script over and over, helped with revisions, gave inspiration, shared her story, which is now very public, inspired, supported and done everything a loving woman does for her partner only to be left with ungratefulness and downright dismissal of her contribution while also being put down for who she used to be – an addict. Marie is now a recovered addict. It all feels like an abuse – it is an emotional and psychological abuse.
There is verbal abuse as well, but the real scope of it is unknown since we did have a peek in only one of their many evenings together. Nobody knows what he is capable of saying (or doing) otherwise. But that is the thing, isn’t it? Abusive men are very good at camouflaging their abusiveness to the point you feel something is not right, but cannot quite pinpoint it due to the elusiveness and their masterful manipulation. If you were to call on their words as being abusive you can bet that they’ll be quick to find an interpretation of their truly hurtful verbal messages as being really nice or polite – what is more, they will go through extraordinary lengths to shove that interpretation of theirs down your throat and make you accept it. That’s manipulation.
Malcolm’s weapon is exploiting his girlfriend’s feelings by transforming very personal, intimate, private experiences and the secrets she trusted him with into hurtful vengeances. He is meek and self-esteem-less with others and compensates for that by putting Marie down. And only this how he can actually feel like a man. He exploits her past by making it a gateway into hurt.
Marie, who has obviously gone through hardship in her life and is attempting to turn her life around, confides in Malcolm whose only intention is to make profit from her past struggles. She trusts him to love her, but he only seems to “love” her when it suits him; he only loves her as long as he gets something from her like a good script, story or dinner. But apart from that, he will pounce at her like a predator at prey every time he feels like it. He will hurt and he will shamelessly exploit over and over just so he can make her feel irrelevant and small. He feeds on that. He grows by doing so. He takes and doesn’t give. He may be providing for the roof over her head (though we don’t know if he’s a sole provider), but he also makes sure she knows that. He makes her feel bad for it. She is irrelevant to him. She is but a mere beauty accessory for his red carpet events. I can only imagine how terribly her potential withers away in this relationship.
And while I do not have anything particularly nice to say about the narcissistic Malcolm, I praise the way Marie makes her point. The way she articulates her point, presents her hurt, literally illustrates how she feels and drives her point home is amazing. Therefore, I can only say that even though the writer of these words is a man, he managed to voice Marie beautifully and he clearly has an incredible insight into the dynamics and psyche of a disturbed, if not truly abusive, relationship and a profound understanding of a victim. Therefore, thumbs up for Sam Levinson.
I’ve heard there have been some mixed reviews regarding the writing of this film. Many reviewers were not satisfied with the screenplay. However, I believe the screenplay is one of the film’s strongest assets. Marie beautifully communicates her psyche and even though it is hard, if not downright impossible, to believe that an abused woman, a victim of abuse, would be able to or better yet, would be allowed to articulate her hurt so profoundly and drive her point home so beautifully without her abuser’s vicious interruption to say the least – I take this attempt as a wishful hope, a desire each and every victim of abuse dreams about coming true. It is basically impossible that an abuser would let his victim talk about hurt and express her feelings and thoughts so elaborately. She would get attacked before she’d even finish the first sentence. There is zero chance that an abuser would listen to her as concentratedly as Malcolm does. He wouldn’t. There is absolutely no way in hell he would even think about what she’s saying. That is out of the question.
Therefore, there is no other way to read this screenplay as a courageous and successful attempt of giving voice to a victim and letting her say her part, speak her mind and stand up for herself verbally while her abuser listens completely paralysed, speechless and genuinely interested in what she has to say. I believe this is wishful thinking of every victim. The sad truth is – it has never happened in abusive relationships nor will it ever. Hence, ladies – run as far as you can from your abuser. Do not try to courageously defend your way because he will not have the conscience to listen, he will not grant you the spotlight to speak and he will not be stopped by shame before vengefully attacking you back. Do not reason with your abuser.
But it sure is nice that for the first time, someone has given that voice to a victim and made the abuser listen – if only just on screen. And to everyone going through abuse – you should know this is just on screen. So, rather set yourself free of abuse if you can. I know the abuse has deep claws and it is very difficult to get out of. But know that you are not to blame for it. And feel no shame. The shame is purely on the abuser.
Note: While we speak of heterosexual relationship here due to having been depicted in this film, we acknowledge that the roles can be reversed and we acknowledge and accept that abuse can be present in homosexual relationships as well as in any other relationship.
If you are in an abusive relationship, you can get help at: