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'The Wife': Anatomy of a Marriage

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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We all know one or more couples who confound us entirely; folks who appear to be tragically immersed in a marriage made in Hell, and yet, for none of the usual rationalizations, like kids money or religion, persevere in their obviously troubled plight.
 
But don't you dare voice your criticism and pretend to know something about their arrangement. For there is pride of ownership in marital dysfunction. And as my never-married Aunt Millie was always so readily fond of informing, odd glint in her eye, "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors."
 
You will read all of this and more into the emotive-rich facial expressions of Glenn Close as Joan Castleman, the proverbial woman behind the great man. Hubby Joe Castleman, portrayed by Jonathan Pryce, is about to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. We accompany the pair to
Stockholm for the ceremony, and along the way, with Close's afflatus extraordinaire dropping crumbs of clues, a la Hansel and Gretel, about her relationship with the famed novelist, we ultimately experience a plot twist that puts the two character studies in stunning perspective.
 
Writing this review of "The Wife" to the backdrop of the #MeToo Movement and the recent Senate Judiciary hearing, it occurs that it would be less of a shame on us humans if the would-be Supreme Court justice were a Martian. Because if you drop all your prejudices just long enough
to take a hard, objective look at the scandalous affair, you'll see that for all intents and purposes we are warring within our own species. It's a wrongheadedness that cruelly and stupidly keeps us from reaching our potential.
 
People shouldn't be physically assaulting each other in an aberrant, pathetic misapplication of the mating process, let alone crow about it to their similarly inclined cohorts, savagely justifying it as boys just being boys. How is that different from saying muggers will be muggers if a thug jumps you from an alley? While I'm all for the perpetuation of La Difference, our failure to throw off the long-outdated constrictions and attitudes that our antecedents instituted in their primitive knowledge of how to divvy up the chores now stands as the world's biggest challenge.
 
It's simple math. You can't send just five players out onto the baseball diamond and expect to prevail. Continuing the always convenient sports metaphor, it also wouldn't serve us well in the pennant race if every so often half the team beat up and threatened the other half and, just to prove their machismo, kept them from using a bat when it was their time at the plate. Major League managers witnessing this atrocious, counterproductive approach to the national pastime would, before running them out of the game on a rail, call such perpetrators schmendricks.
 
The same is true of anyone who commits the unpardonable sin of impeding civilization's progress. Time is a wasting. From curing cancer to making sure there isn't a hungry mouth on this rich, fertile globe, to putting out the barn fire that is global warming, it's all hands on deck.
 
Of course, that's if you don't have an alternate plan for us good folks to create that Garden of Eden we are capable of, were it not for those schmendricks. So, no sexual assaulting from now on. OK? Oh, the assault isn't always physical. Mental persecution is rampant. It can be deceivingly subtle, seemingly unintentional. Just ask Joan. 
 
Given, per Shakespeare, that all the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players, our title character, a never actualized casualty of the closeminded 1950s, has spent the better part of her marriage trying to find her role in life's drama while maintaining a sense of dignity. Considering how we Homo sapiens have evolved and the numerous peace treaties agreed to and broken in the war between the sexes, it's a testament to our survival instinct that both genders have thus far endured. In this astute dissection of a marriage, we are treated to an eye-opening look behind those aforementioned closed doors. 
 
Taking place over just a few days, with the regal pomp and circumstance of the Nobel Prize ceremonies as the setting, the Castleman confederation is deconstructed for all its wit, deception, dedication, resentment, and, yes, love. Using flashbacks reminiscent of those seen in the similarly themed "Two for the Road" (1967), the bittersweet analysis offers both philosophical and concrete answers to the story's urgently implied questions.
 
This is grownups' stuff, a movie with a beginning, middle and end — the intelligent antidote to the special effects-inundated fantasy fare geared to get our minds off such serious matters in the first place. So while there isn't the escapist thrill of adventure far from the realm of reality, "The Wife" does entertainingly remind us of the excitement that comes of exercising our gray matter.
 
"The Wife," rated R, is a Sony Pictures Classics release directed by Björn Runge and stars Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce and Christian Slater. Running time: 100 minutes

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