Identity

Allow a Child of Divorce to Explain 'Marriage Story' to You

I can only imagine the film's nuances are simply lost on people whose parents are still, somehow, together.
December 9, 2019, 8:04pm
A scene from Marriage Story

I’m aware that people believe Marriage Story is a movie for adults who’ve gotten divorced themselves, but many who see this movie will understand that it’s actually children of divorce. Even if your own parents’ split wasn’t anything like the one in the movie, even if you were a different age when your parents called it quits, the experience of watching two people devise new ways to wreck each other (and, as a side effect, you, ha ha) is universal. There are many moments and general vibes throughout the film that are simply only legible to child of divorce, and we’ve collected them below to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • As the child in the situation, the notion of acting like a dick on purpose. A population of Marriage Story’s viewers seem to hate Henry (the kid). What they don’t understand is that he is hateable on purpose. If there is anything children of divorce are good at (aside from mediating conflict, ha ha), it’s making things about themselves. Henry flexes this skill when refusing to get into his dad’s car, and trying to just complete his stupid scavenger hunt, instead. When things are about you, it’s harder for your parents to make things about them. Genius!!!!!!! Justice for Henry.
  • Hating any moment when your parents are alone together. When parents who are still in love are alone together, I imagine their children fret over quaint things, like, “Do mom and dad still do it??” But children of divorce hate to see their parents alone together because it’s another opportunity for them to absolutely destroy each other. Henry has already also learned this skill: In the same scene mentioned above, when his dad is at his mom’s to pick him up, Henry literally says to them, “No talking alone.” Good job, Henry; way to referee your adult parents.
  • Seeing mom do “silent cry.” Henry doesn’t see this happen, but early on in the film, Nicole (the mom) walks away from Charlie (the dad) and her face contorts into a Silent Cry. All kids of divorce recognize this look immediately, having seen one or both of our own parents do this; it’s where we learned how to keep our feelings private, in order to avoid confrontation.
  • The general vibe of your parents doing things “for you” that actually suck for you. Many will watch this movie and think, “Wow, so nice that these two parents fought so hard for their kid.” There are many cruel things about divorce, but one of the cruelest is that it effectively (legally) labels kids as “possessions to be fought over,” rather than people with some agency (if not the faculties to make an informed lifestyle decision, such as, “which coast to live on”). Nicole decides that Henry will have two Halloweens—one with each parent—instead of one, joint Halloween as planned, even saying this is something that “will be fun for him.” This turns out to be absolutely no fun for Henry, because of course it isn’t?? After walking around and eating a ton of candy, the only correct thing to do is go to bed, not walk around near midnight to collect even more candy. The Halloween saga is this movie’s version of when kids from healthy families ask kids from divorced ones, “Sick, so you get two Christmases now??” Yeah, bitch, I do; but you get a healthy relationship model, so who’s really winning?

Many others, whose parents are somehow still together (??? Literally, what????), will see this movie and think… Well, honestly, I don’t know what will go through their minds. Why would anyone watch this, if their parents are still together…? To “feel something?” To “relate?” To safely explore from a distance what it might have been like to see the only two people in the world who are supposed to love and protect you seem to just throw all that out the window in the interest of destroying each other, sometimes under the maybe-correct pretense of “what’s best for the kid(s),” having resigned everyone to the fate of emotional ruin? The entire premise probably sails right over their heads. I commend them for trying to understand the plight of children of divorce, though a feature film isn’t really necessary for that, because if there’s anything children of divorce love more than glibly chuckling through Marriage Story, it’s talking about being children of divorce.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.