Hooray for Hollywood: Rethinking Marriage

Noble Tale

In The Young Victoria, the absorbing story of the British monarch's difficult and complex upbringing in the shadow of her predecessor, King William, the institution of marriage is approached as both a union of two sympathetic individuals and a merger of noble households.

Cut off from her peers and coerced by her mother's manipulative advisers, Victoria (Emily Blunt) might well have made an impossible wife. Instead, she is prompted by Albert's (Rupert Friend) intuition, encouragement, and virtue to share a rich domestic life.

The early days of their happy and fruitful marriage are complicated by the disparity in their social status: She must initiate the proposal of marriage. A union of equals seems nearly unattainable, yet the two slowly establish a foundation of mutual respect. Victoria learns to trust his judgment, despite the fact that her upbringing had taught her to trust no one but herself.

In all of these films, marriage doesn't imprison women within the confines of the home, but provides a kind of launching pad for wives eager to explore the world. The exception is Up, the Pixar/Disney animated film. The story traces the deep friendship of two soul mates -- a cautious boy named Carl Fredricksen (Jeremy Leary) and a tomboyish girl, Ellie (Elizabeth Docter) -- as it ripens into love.

From the beginning, Ellie's spirited sense of adventure captures Carl's heart. Yet, somehow, their youthful plan for a trip of a lifetime is put on hold indefinitely. They hope for a large family, then grieve together when Ellie is unable to have children. She gets on with the business of keeping house while he brings home the bacon.

When Ellie dies in late middle age, Carl blames himself for shackling her to domestic obscurity. A series of events prompt him to take that long-delayed trip. Along the way, he discovers that she never regretted one day of their time together. Long ago, she had embraced their marriage as that much-anticipated adventure of a lifetime.

These stories signal a real departure from Hollywood's hardboiled treatment of marriage. Not a revolution, maybe, but a fresh perspective on a battered institution that's losing appeal for younger Americans.

A half century ago, the institution of marriage was attacked as an antiquated holdover from a patriarchal era. A new generation of filmmakers has rediscovered that age-old truth: "It is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18).


This article was originally posted at the National Catholic Register and is reprinted with permission.  Joan Frawley Desmond is a correspondent with the Register.

3/4/2010 5:00:00 AM
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