Is marital suffering unavoidable? That question lingers throughout Hagai Levi’s new, five-part limited series, Scenes From a Marriage. Featuring towering, powder keg performances from Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac, this new version–inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 Swedish television series–is nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster, and you just might find yourself looking inward with every beat and every argument. How does marriage survive marriage?
Chastain and Isaac don’t need to prove their chemistry after that viral video surfaced last week of the pair on the Venice Film Festival red carpet (please watch it immediately), and they have just as much spark on screen as a couple going through a tiring separation. Chastain and Isaac play Mira and Johnathan, a couple who have been together since college. She’s a successful corporate executive who makes more money, but he doesn’t mind. His academic career gives him more of an opportunity to stay home and raise their daughter.
In the first episode, the couple is being interviewed by a young woman for a study on married couples where the wife is more successful, and we can already see seeds of doubt across Chastain’s face. There are many conversations throughout Scenes From a Marriage that delve into expectations and hesitancy in a long-term relationship. What is said and not said? How much do we hold back and how much are we actually presenting to our partners?
Levi gives his actors free reign, and the series is all the better for it. We can tell the rehearsal process must have been exhausting because when Chastain and Isaac aim to hurt, they hit each other with succinct intensity. Mira tells Jonathan late in the series, “I don’t know if we can be in the same room without hurting each other.” You hurt the ones you love the deepest because you know how to–whether you know you are doing it or not. It is not hyperbolic to express how dynamite these two are together. Chastain’s voice always has a light timbre to it, but here you don’t know if she’s using it to manipulate or she’s an inch from breaking down and crying. Isaac–never more handsome with his settled father beard and hair just at the cusp of greying–gives Jonathan such a big heart but he sometimes doesn’t want Mira to use it against him. The entire second episode is a master-class in acting and you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from it.
The color palette is calm with whites, pale blues, and some pinks mingled with dark tones. It hints at a calm domestic bliss but its delicacy is at risk.
Levi imbues the entire series with silence but that lack of noise makes us so uneasy. Are we about to say something we regret and can’t take back? The physical wounds from this Scenes From a Marriage ache deeply. It’s a visceral experience, but a truly unforgettable one. It’s like a great love that you sometimes think of fondly and you allow yourself to numb yourself from the painful memories.
Scenes From a Marriage debuts on September 12.