Motifs in Cinema Project: Love (and/or Marriage)

I was recently asked by Andrew Kendall at Encore Entertainment to contribute a post for the Motifs in Cinema blogging project. 2012, a multi-site themed blogging projects of 11 writers looking at 11 motifs from films last year. When Andrew emailed me the topics for the Motifs in Cinema Project, for some reason I gravitated towards the Love and/or Marriage theme. Perhaps because it so happens that 2013 falls on my 10-year wedding anniversary. So for this purpose, I’m going to focus more specifically on marriage on films and how filmmakers have used that theme in 2012.

This is the intro for the project:

Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across 22 film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilised by different artists.

Love (and/or Marriage) in Cinema

By the time this project rolls around, I still have not seen two major Oscar contenders Amour and Anna Karenina in which the theme of love and marriage runs deep. But these eight films happen to explore marriage in varying degree, and each offers us something different when it comes to love and marriage.

[Naturally with this kind of post, I’ll be talking about some major plot points, so consider this a SPOILER ALERT!]

A Late Quartet

One of my favorite films of 2012 that’s probably get lost in the shuffle. Two members of the renowned quartet Fugue are married couple Robert and Juliette (played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Katherine Keener). Even though they work together, their marriage is on the brink of doom, seemingly held together by their love for their only daughter, who later on ends up wrecking havoc in the already fragile musical group.


Jealousy, lust and disillusionment threatened to break their marriage forever and I thought it’d be the case when Robert gave in to the seduction of his beautiful jogging partner. Neither Robert nor Juliette seems invested in their marriage as much as they are in their music, and therein lies the problem. Having been married for nearly a decade now, I realize how crucial it is to never take our spouse for granted, and this film is a reminder of that.


Just because it’s an animated film, it doesn’t mean that it can’t have a poignant message. As Pixar has done a few years ago with UP, that opening montage alone speaks volumes as one of the best portrayal of marriage on film. Unlike other less-fortunate Disney princesses, Merida grew up in a loving home with her dad Lord Fergus and Queen Eleanor. The queen is the one who ‘wears the pants’ in the family, so to speak, though it seems unrealistic perhaps in the Medieval era, so it’s perhaps more wishful thinking than anything. That said, it’s wonderful to see such a healthy relationship between the two, the scene where Eleanor vents to Fergus about Merida is both hilarious and moving.


The film also challenges the notion of young and arranged marriage, with Merida protesting the whole betrothal process and refusing to give up her freedom. Marriage should always be a choice, first and foremost, and that ‘happily ever after’ might not always happen. It also shouldn’t be a ‘goal’ so much as a natural procession of life when things fall into place.


I wasn’t wowed by this film overall but I did appreciate that I got a glimpse of the marriage life of one of the world’s most famous film directors. The saying of ‘Behind every great man there’s a great woman’ couldn’t be more true when it comes to Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), as not only Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) was supportive and willing to put up with his antics, including his juvenile crush with his leading ladies, she was crucial in his career, too.


Alma wasn’t exactly a saint, either. Lacking the attention from her husband, Alma was drawn to screenwriter Whitfield Cook who’s flirtatious with her and plays upon her own writing career aspiration. No marriage is perfect surely, but what I do like about Alfred and Alma is that they are friends as well as lovers, they can relate to each other beyond just the romantic stuff. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company and have that shared creative passion. I think that’s partly why their marriage could last as long as it did despite a few bumps on the road. Dame Mirren is the star of the show for me, and I think I learn much more about Alma here than I did about her husband.

Moonrise Kingdom

One of the most delightfully quirky films of 2012 center on two 12-year-olds running away from home to be together. They claim they are in love with each other and we think, ‘they don’t even know what love is!’ Be that as it may, does it make their feelings ‘less true?’

Neither Sam and Suzi come from a healthy family.  Suzi’s parents are on the brink of divorce as her mom is in love with the local Captain. Sam has been living in a ‘juvenile refuge’ as his foster parents no longer wants him living with them. But love is a universal desire even for those perhaps too young to understand, and the film offers an endearingly-naive look at marriage from fresh young eyes who aren’t yet cynical nor jaded by that concept.

Nobody Walks

I didn’t really care for this film, in fact, I listed it as one of the worst films I saw in 2012. The thing is, I’m not fond of films about infidelity, though at times there’s a teachable moment that I can appreciate. In this case, it comes from the supporting character Julie (played by the massively underrated Rosemarie DeWitt). Whilst her husband was hopelessly infatuated by a young, pretty house guest like a 12-year-old boy, temptation also came her way like a storm. She’s a therapist and the seducer is her patient who happens to be a handsome and successful actor. She could’ve given in and chalk it up to her husband being a douche bag and the fact that she had been a neglected wife, but in the end she did the right thing.


This film paints a rather bleak portrait of marriage… where things seems quiet and peaceful for this well-to-do family but yet, even the slightest breeze threatens to blow everything apart as if it had no solid foundation at all. For the time being, their union seemingly survives the whole ordeal, but it made me think… for how much longer?? What would ensure them that it would not happen again?? The main character Martine (an attractive but impossible-to-root-for Olivia Thirlby) is even more tragic, not only did she has no complete regard for people’s relationships, she doesn’t seem to value herself nor her own feelings, either.

People Like Us

Despite its incredibly generic title, this movie ends up being a pretty good one. It doesn’t depict marriage between two characters in the film, instead it explores the consequences of a marital misstep, through the eyes of those who end up suffering from it. Sam and Frankie met as a result of their father’s infidelity – Sam is record producer Jerry Harper’s firstborn, and Frankie is the daughter of his mistress. Sam’s last wish before he died is to give a large sum of money to Frankie’s young son, which creates interesting circumstances for all three and their lives are never the same because of it.


In my book, infidelity is NEVER a good thing. But sometimes good can come from something bad and in this case, it’s honesty and kindness ends up righting the wrong, even if the way to get there isn’t always smooth.

Robot & Frank

Now this one paints a very different view of marriage. In fact, it never quite enter the picture until the film almost ended. It’s marketed as an unlikely friendship between a robot butler and his master, Frank (Frank Langella), and indeed it is. But there’s also a relationship between a beautiful librarian Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) whom he constantly flirts with. Set in a distant future where physical books are being replaced by digital copies, Frank is struggling to come to terms with the ever-changing world around him.


It’s a film about Alzheimer that doesn’t hit us over the head with the harrowing subject matter, but instead it gives us a sweet – and at times hilarious – picture of family. In the end, it’s revealed that Jennifer is actually Frank’s wife, which I didn’t see coming. That revelation made me tear up as it’s just heartbreaking but also made your heart soar at the same time. Real love knows no bounds, the heart always remembers even when the mind lost its capacity to do so… and that is one of the most beautiful and uplifting picture of marriage I’ve seen in a long while.

Silver Linings Playbook

Marriage is the union of two people, but sometimes the breakdown of a marriage could actually brings people together. That’s what happens with Pat and Tiffany, the former lost his marriage to infidelity (and his uncontrollable rage) and the other to a tragic accident. Each of them deals with it in their own way. Tiffany tries to hide her pain by being promiscuous and Pat holds on to the hope that he could still get back together with his estranged wife Nikki.


Though they didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, their relationship slowly became the very thing that help both of them heal… and learn to love again. Pat has always wanted that love to come from his wife, but instead, it comes from an unlikely person that comes to him unexpectedly. The moment Pat felt for Tiffany, it took him by surprise and he looked away, unable to comprehend the change in his heart. It wasn’t until the finale of the dance competition that he finally chose to acknowledge his feelings and decided he needed to do something about it. Director David O. Russell kept the ending open-ended in terms of how Pat ended things with Nikki. But by then it doesn’t really matter. What matters to Pat (and us the viewers) is that he’s finally found that silver linings.

Be sure to check out other entries of Motifs in Cinema on Encore Entertainment Blog!

Thoughts on any of these films? What other 2012 films would you have chosen in regards to marriage?

28 thoughts on “Motifs in Cinema Project: Love (and/or Marriage)

  1. FIRST! 😀

    I’ll confess to only having seen half of these… (Brave, Silver Linings, Moonrise and Hitchcock), but theyre all good films, and they do each present a diffferent look at love, releationships and or Marriage. Solid choices Ruth!

  2. Great post! I haven’t heard of The Late Quartet, but after reading this I’m going to look for it. I like that you included Nobody Walks. I didn’t like the film either, but I thought that very last line Julie said to Martine spoke volumes.

  3. I really am glad to see so many persons using “Brave” in such different ways. It’s nice to see an animated films where one parents is not dead or relegated to prop status. Off the top of my head, I recall “Mulan” (curiously, another female heroine fighting against society) as having a loving mother and father pairing.

    “Moonrise Kingdom” is such a nice fit here because the innocence of Sam and Suzy’s love seems even more pronounced against the more cynical “love” of their adult counterparts.

    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for organizing this blogathon. As a first time participant, it was quite fun though initially I found it challenging. I LOVE Brave and I remember really liking the marriage depicted in the movie, it was funny but also heartwarming. Oh yes, Mulan is a great example too. As for Moonrise Kingdom, the contrast of the innocent and more jaded view of marriage work to great effect here.

      1. It’s actually only Silver Linings I’ve seen other than A Late Quartet, thought it was more than that on first read through. I do have Moonrise Kingdom sat on the shelf waiting to be watched, looking forward to getting round to that one.

  4. What a lovely post! Love the inclusion of Brave, I wasn’t in awe of the movie but the emotions were beautifully portrayed in this one. I think Anna Karenina would play well into marriage theme, the film is forgettable as hell but Jude Law played the husband very well in that movie.

    1. Thank you Sati. I wish I had seen Anna Karenina as that definitely deals heavily with an unhappy marriage. It’s an interesting choice to have the gorgeous Jude Law to play the wronged husband who’s supposed to be ‘not much to look at’ ahah.

  5. How is it that I’ve never heard of A Late Quartet? One marriage movie that comes to mind is Mike Leigh’s All or Nothing. I like the fact that it focuses on a middle aged couple, and they aren’t glamorous or conventionally beautiful. They are struggling with a load of difficulties (of course — it’s a Mike Leigh movie) and they’re really stuck in their marriage. But they finally rediscover their commitment to each other.

    1. Hi Steph, hope you check out A Late Quartet, it’s a small gem that seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle of 2012 movies. Mike Leigh films often deal w/ marriage problems, was All or Nothing released last year? I’ve never even heard of that one but I did see Another Year.

  6. Great idea for a blogging project. As you and I have discussed before, there aren’t a whole lot of functioning movie marriages. I have only seen three of these, but I thought SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was the most hopeful relationship portrayal. I don’t think A LATE QUARTET ever even showed here so that’s a definite rental.

    1. Hi Paula, yeah you’re right, Hollywood often portray marriages as being dire. Thankfully, some of these do speak of marriage in a positive light. Very true about Silver Linings Playbook, it offers an uplifting view of relationship beyond just the physical aspect.

  7. Fine picks Ruth. Nobody Walks is a brilliant choice that could go unnoticed. Love that you included that, even if neither of us cared for the film.

    Still need to see A Late Quartet, People Like Us, and Robot & Frank.

    1. Yeah, Nobody Walks is pretty dour overall, I wouldn’t have included it if it weren’t for DeWitt’s character. Can’t go wrong with those three films Josh, I think you’d appreciate them.

  8. What an awesome post! (Oh, I get to finally see “Amour” tomorrow – WOO HOO!)

    I tip-toed through some of the post due to your spoiler warning…

    1. I’m really interested in seeing The Last Quartet!
    2. I’ve written a review for Brave but still haven’t posted it (grrrr). I love your mention of their marriage. Even though the Queen gets too controlling the King is there and offers his own brand of input while still showing an amazing amount of love.
    3. Yes, Yes, Yes on Hitchcock. Mirren is wonderful and she truly is the uncredited source of his strength both creatively and emotionally.
    4. Moonrise Kingdom! One of my favorite movies of the year and a film filled with broken relationships. But it takes the relationship of two young children to snap the dysfunctional adults out of their haze. GREAT film.
    5. I haven’t seen Nobody Walks!
    6. I have been meaning to catch up with People Like Us after hearing some really good things about it!
    7. Robot & Frank – it’s near the top of my “To Rent” list. I love Frank Langella.
    8. SLP…sigh. I still haven’t watched this. I know I should but I’m not a big David O. Russell fan and his abrasive style of storytelling. I will see this eventually though.

    Here’s a few to toss in:
    1. Naomi Watts and Ewen McGregor in “The Impossible”. Granted, it isn’t to center focus of the film but their self-sacrificial parental love for their children and each other came across very strongly for me.
    2. Tom Hiddleston and Rachel Wiesz in “Deep Blue Sea”. This is such a challenging picture of marriages built on the wrong foundations. Great performances.
    3. Ralph Fiennes and Jessica ChastaIn in “Coriolanus”. Again, this is a stretch because this is a small part of the film but I was enthralled with the structure of their marriage and his misguided priorities which come with a cost. Chastain was underappreciated for her performance.

    Oh, more importantly, an early congrats on 10 years of marriage!!! It’ll be 18 for us this year!!! Here’s to many more for us both! 🙂

    1. Ahah yeah, I had to put the spoiler warning or risk people’s wraths 😀

      Glad you enjoyed BRAVE too, I thought it offered a rare glimpse of a healthy marriage for a Disney movie. I LOVE King Fergus, sooo adorable!

      Yep, Mirren is the reason I enjoyed Hitchcock more than I otherwise would.

      Amen on what you said about Moonrise Kingdom.

      I’d just skip Nobody Walks unless you’re real curious about it Keith, but People Like Us is definitely worth a look.

      Glad to see you like Robot & Frank, yes Langella is sooo underrated.

      I see what you mean about O. Russell but it was such a pleasant surprise for me Keith, mores so than The Fighter and the dysfunctional family dynamics is actually endearing.

      Oh man I can’t believe I still have not seen Deep Blue Sea. I adore both Tom and Rachel, great call there. As for The Impossible, I definitely will rent it, packing tons of tissues before I do. Coriolanus is an interesting pick but like you said, it’s more about the relationship between him and his sworn enemy Aufidius.

      Thanks for the well wishes. WOW, 18 years!! What a blessing indeed, yes, here’s to us both. May God bless you and your wife always. Amen 😀

  9. Cool entry in this blogathon, Ruth! I have only seen a few of these, but I’m glad you included Moonrise Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook. Even though the latter fell into familiar tropes by the end, it was still one of the better romantic comedies I have seen. Then again, it doesn’t feel right to call it a romantic comedy either. Just a good film all around.

    1. I never even thought of SLP as a rom-com, I mean it does have comedic and romantic elements on it but I think of it more of a drama. Out of this list, I’d highly recommend A Late Quartet, Brave and Robot & Frank, they’re all VERY good movies.

        1. Glad to hear you like Brave, woo hoo! As for Robot & Frank, if you like Langella and Sarandon, then you’ll enjoy it. James Marsden is also wonderful in it, he’s such an underrated actor!

  10. Pingback: Checking Out the “Happy-Haps!” (2/20) « The Focused Filmographer

  11. This is a fantastic post. Like you, I think it’s really cool that we covered the same motif, but discussed it in entirely different ways. Great job!

    By the way, I could’ve written your paragraph on Nobody Walks. Those are my sentiments EXACTLY. Well done.

    1. Thanks Alex, that’s very kind of you. I was thinking of doing both love and marriage but since this year is my wedding anniversary, I decided to just focus on the latter. Glad you agreed on Nobody Walks, it just left a bitter taste in my mouth.

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