Why is marriage seldom the focus of literature or film?

Two sentences in W. H. Auden’s lecture on Romeo & Juliet have always lingered with me, “If they become a married couple, there will be no more wonderful speeches — and a good thing, too. Then the real tasks of life will begin, with which art has surprisingly little to do.” Literature and film seldom focus on marriage because they are more interested in narratives about “falling in love” or “falling out of love” rather than “being in love.” Storytellers wrongly assume there is only dynamism in romance or adultery but not marriage. As I watched the film 45 Years (2015), I was pleased that the director, Andrew Haigh, does not make this assumption, as Alissa Wilkinson notes in her review for Christianity Today:

Given how common the experience is to many people’s lives, it’s surprising how few movies and TV shows take marriage as their central focus. Certainly the turning points—romance, adultery, divorce, death—are easier to turn into the stuff of drama.

But when a long-term marriage exists in a movie or TV show, it’s more often the backdrop for some other story. Many stories treat marriage as if it’s a state of being, like your employment or your city of residence, or like Katya, “frozen in time”—another of the film’s pointers toward its source, David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country.” In reality, a marriage is a lot more like a dynamic living being, comprised of but somehow larger than the people in the relationship, sustained to the degree the partners allow it. Marrying another person means weaving your story into theirs and letting the two narratives intertwine. In a sense, you deposit your consciousness and memories into another person. Even your individual experiences are parts of that story.


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