Is there a more portentous event to commence a thriller than an anniversary party celebrating a long married perfect, happy, couple? Adoring children and friends, an envious single neighbor and other well wishers gather to toast Bob and Darcy, fulfilled, attractive and still in love after 25 years. A GOOD MARRIAGE, from the master of all storytellers Stephen King is about marriage and discordance: There is more to us than we allow those we love, and who in turn love us, to know. Even those we believe we know best have darkness and secrets, and maybe in part, that is what allows us to live contentedly with a partner for many years. Perhaps we suspect there is a shadow, something…more, but exactly what remains hidden. And in some cases, like Bob and Darcy’s, should remain hidden. So few things in life are black and white and King directs his gaze upon the sacrament of marriage to illustrate that truth. How well do you really know your spouse? A GOOD MARRIAGE asks us the better question; how well do you honestly want to know your spouse?
It’s very tidy to believe that there are absolute truths in life; do not harm or abuse others, do not kill. Don’t hurt children or puppies and maybe a few more. But that’s about it. A GOOD MARRIAGE examines context in relation to deeds thought of as absolutes. The possibility is that the examination of moral absolute truths, are in part dependent on context. What we do in a moment when our life, as we know it, like it and believe it to be, is inexorably altered and we can never return to the existence we knew just minutes before? What would you do if your spouse, loving and attentive, attracted to you, co-parent of your successful and terrific kids has a secret. And I don’t mean that he or she belongs to a fantasy football league, or dresses up in furry animal costumes. That’s child’s play. What would you do if you were to learn something that you’d rather have never known. Is blissful ignorance ‘better?’ Is knowing all really the ideal in a relationship? Maybe it’s a matter of context, but its a damn good question.
The benignly attractive and ceaselessly kind Joan Allen plays Darcy perfectly. She is stable, patient and attentive to her beloved husband of 25 years, Bob, played by the ever protean Anthony LaPaglia, and an empathic mother to her adult children. Allen and LaPaglia are astounding well matched in vintage and appeal, and make a highly believable couple with a language of foreplay, motions and routines of their own. With Bob away on business and her kids having returned to their own burgeoning lives post-anniversay celebration, Darcy unintentionally discovers something about Bob. Something so black, something legitimately threatening and sinister. There is a significant amount of innuendo leading up to the moment of discovery and while it is unnecessary and overkill in my opinion, the film is about process, not shock value. We know at the outset what lays before us and that does not result in disappointment. On the contrary it allows for the true terror to build and for the audience to ask the “right” questions of Darcy and, if we were in her shoes, of ourselves. Her terror and distress are real and Allen conveys jarring trauma so well, her subtle gestures and expressions rendering her a stranger in her own home. Her familiar safe landscape has changed beneath her feet and has become muddy and foreign. LaPaglia, who can be so endearing as well as cooly unnerving, acts so fully with his face: his mouth a hard slash from which a inky velvet voice pours, laying under round warm eyes. He can communicate affection and threat with equal value and force.
Stephen King pays great attention to detail and that is one feature which makes him a masterful storyteller. None of that has been lost in the transition from written word to film. Director Peter Askin maintains a beautifully stable and grounded reality amidst mounting fear and suspicion through the repeated use of Bob and Darcy’s personal routines. It is in part what makes them seem authentic. Darcy’s unconscious motions and gestures after her discovery are perfect and Bob’s hidden notes are brimming with passive aggression. There is a significant shift in the balance of power between the couple and a fascinating evolution of Darcy’s character. It may in fact be that she begins to reveal a part of herself which has always been there but she couldn’t allow. It is one of the most elegant and intelligent facets of the story. The film, though a good film, has the feel of a stage play, or perhaps might be better suited to the stage. The story is Darcy and its scope is tightly contained. Heightened drama could have been achieved through more diverse cinematography. The vast majority of the film is mid-range shots, nary a suffocating close-up in sight. At times I yearned to dive into the darkness of LaPaglia’s gaze, to be held there with no escape. It is perhaps that factor – the way in which the film ‘looks’ – that makes it feel more theatrical than cinematic. Nonetheless, the film is taut and Askin has crafted one of the all-time most unsettling discussions between a husband and wife ever shot, forcing we the audience to question whether it was in fact real. That seed of doubt around what is really happening – or maybe not happening – is achieved without hyperbole or unnecessary melodrama. Can it all really be so simple? Can one love, truly love, and at the same time live with and act upon a seething violent affliction? We are left with questions and that gives the film life after its conclusion. Good films – good art – in part lead us to ask the right questions and those good questions are at the heart of A GOOD MARRIAGE.
(3.5 / 5)
Director: Peter Askin
Starring: Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia, Stephen Lang, Kristen Connolly, Will Rogers
Running Time: 102 minutes
Movie Review A Good Marriage