Do we really know the person we are sleeping with? Or, to be more specific, do we know what really goes on in the mind of the person with whom you sleep? This is the question that Ira Sachs explores in Married Life. And he answers with a disappointing, but perhaps realistic, no.
Versatile character actor Chris Cooper plays the everyman Harry Allen, a mid-40s businessman in this mid-40's melodrama. "Happily" married to Pat Allen (Patricia Clarkson), he is in the middle of an affair with a much younger woman, Kay (Rachel MacAdams). The twist is his wife believes "love is sex" and wants sex not romance or affection, while Harry seems to want affection more than sex. Harry is a good guy who "cares" enough about his wife to avoid hurting her with a divorce, so decides he will poison her instead . . . as if killing her is a better thing for her.
When Harry informs his charming but rakish friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan) of his love for Kay, and then introduces him to Kay, Richard falls for her. To cap things off, Richard later walks in on Pat with a younger lover herself. Everyone, it seems, is cheating on another.
With such a quality cast, Married Life gets fine performances from the lead actors. Yet, despite the acting and the interesting plot twists (a "good" guy with a bad heart and a "bad" guy who develops a better heart, no longer wanting to play loose with every woman he meets), this is a melodrama that disappoints. The characters are not that likeable, and it is hard to care about them.Married Life portrays married life as a sham. Although this couple, Pat and Richard, share the same bed, they do not share the same thoughts or affections. They are going through the motions, though neither senses that the other is also doing it. Both seem to focus on the duties implicit in marriage not the benefits or pleasures to be accorded to one another.
At one point Pat says "What is the price a good wife pays?" She wants to be good but does not wish to pay the price. She is focused on self-interest, in this case in sex and not from her husband. He, in turn, realizes that she has made him a "better finished product" but cannot bear to publicly humiliate her (as divorce did in those days when it was not common).
Both main characters have put their finger on a key issue in marriage: it takes work and has a price. Husband and wife will pay a price to make a marriage last, but it is worth doing so. A good marriage will make both partners better people. Typically, we see our own selfishness and sinful behaviors exposed more clearly in the intimacy and proximity of this relationship. But we grow only as we decide to open up to one another and become vulnerable, and then take action to change the pettiness that we see illumined in us.
In Married Life, both Pat and Richard have stopped being transparent with one another. They no longer share their thoughts and desires. In withdrawing mentally they have separated themselves from one another, until all that is left is superficial and phoney. Marriage, as ordained by God, is intended to be a beautfiul relationship of openness and love, where we can support our spouse and help them to become the people God wants them to be. Since marriage is a symbolic picture of the relationshoip between Christ and His church, the Savior and the saved, it highlights an intimacy rarely experienced but always expected. As we ponder the question, do we know who we are sleeping with, for married followers of Christ, if we cannot say yes, we should at least be trying to get to a yes, rather than accepting a no.
Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs