Ingmar Bergman, one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers debuted Scenes From A Marriage in 1973. The Swedish miniseries explored the disintegration of a marriage between a family lawyer and a psychology professor. This five-hour miniseries was also edited into a 2-hour 45-minute feature-length film; both
versions are heralded as television and cinematic bliss respectively. Contrary to the original series, it is the wife in the 2021 series that is dissatisfied with their current and recent circumstances, and her dissatisfaction is the driving force of the pilot episode. HBO alum Hagai Levi’s (In Treatment) 2021 take on Bergman’s original is a true reimagining vice ending up being a run-of-the-mill remake. Whether the methodical and layered revelations of the original or the more visceral and direct approach of the 2021 version is more effective, will be up to viewers to decide. Comparisons to the original series will not go beyond this paragraph, for many HBOWatch.com readers may be unfamiliar with the original work.
Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac continue to add to their storied careers with top-notch performances as Mira and Jonathan, a couple with a young daughter living in an upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood. Although Mira is the breadwinner, it is Jonathan who openly gives insight into their careers to listening ears. Our axiom into the couple’s lives is through an interview being conducted by a Ph.D. candidate. The interviewer is capturing information for a dissertation about gender roles in monogamous relationships. Jonathan’s well-intentioned but disillusioned take on the state of his marriage is acutely apparent in Mira’s mannerisms and general discomfort throughout the interview. Jonathan frequently equates financial stability and taking care of one’s responsibilities to compassion and intimacy. He enthusiastically answers questions directed to Mira; naively thinking that they are on the same emotional accord.
Despite being a tech executive at a yet-to-be-disclosed firm, Mira is not braggadocios about her career pedigree. Any details about Mira are revealed through half-finished sentences and pained expressions. When couple Kate (Nichole Beharie) and Peter (Peter Stoll) arrive for dinner (pictured at left), Mira proves to be a good listener for the troubled couple. Kate and Peter waste no time arguing in front of Jonathan and Mira, about their past transgressions. The irony is that each couple mistakenly idolizes the seemingly perfect but ultimately dwindling marriage of the other couple. With each scene of the series transpiring in a single room, the sublime performances of ScenesFrom A Marriage keep it from collapsing under the weight of its own melodramatic plotline.
When Mira reveals she is expecting, a surprised but initially happy Jonathan is distraught when Mira reveals she does not want to continue the pregnancy. Levi smartly leaves what was discussed about the situation to our imagination, and places us in the moments after the abortion. The crinkling of tablet packets as Mira takes meds after the abortion brought chills down this reviewer’s spine. The scene is not intended to bring forth pro-life or pro-choice arguments. Rather, this situation displays the unfortunate circumstances of the human condition. The previously upbeat Jonathan is grieving for the aborted life, himself, and his wife. Jonathan is further saddened by Mira’s polite but stern refusal to ride back home with her husband, instead opting to take public transportation at a later time.
The opening scene of episode 1, Innocence and Panic, is a meta-spectacle. A handheld camera follows Jessica Chastain from her dressing room to the set of Scenes From A Marriage. We see that COVID restrictions are in place. Thoughts on this scene from various reviewing platforms have lauded it or criticized it for being too “on-the-nose”. What are your thoughts on the first episode; particularly the inclusion of openly acknowledging the current ongoing pandemic? Is it effective or too soon?
(Due to glitches on HBO.com we are not able to embed the following Scene Study; hit the link to view.)
Scenes From A Marriage returns Sunday, September 19, 2021, at 9:00pm ET.
About The Author
Travlis is a government contractor, Naval reservist, and aficionado of film, premium television, and literature. A viewer of HBO for nearly three decades, Travlis just completed the first draft an outline and script for a documentary titled "On a Dark and Stormy Night". The intentionally cliché’ title serves as a double entendre’. For Home Box Office aired its first wave of programming on November 8, 1972, during a thunderstorm, and the premium cable giant‘s nearly five decade run of quality programming is anything but cliché’.