When it comes to relationships, should we choose between adventure and safety? Between emotional instability and boredom? In Rafael Palacio Illingworth’s Between Us, these questions are raised as we witness the first chaotic days of a young couple’s marriage. With this radical change in their lives, they ask themselves those questions, consider their options, and look back on the last six years of their lives together.
After Henry (Ben Feldman) and Dianne (Olivia Thirlby) decide to get married, they start chanting the words “husband and wife” repeatedly, as if trying to convince themselves of their decision or trying to assimilate the new roles they’re about to pursue. However, their whole relationship feels like a performance on several levels. First, the situation that initiates the tension between them (an expensive apartment and their families putting pressure on them) feels like something they could easily ignore. But through Illingworth’s direction, we understand that the conflict is an excuse to release the emotions they’ve bottled up. One after the other, small incidents pile up over the years, and we’re left with the idea that external difficulties are never the real issue.
At first, their relationship seems strong in realistic terms. When they talk about marriage by saying, “Should we just get married and get the fucking thing out of the way?”, we think it’s charming and not an indication of impulsivity or lack of judgment. Later, we quickly learn that what looks like a positive and romantic trait (the way they remember the past and their first days as a couple) is the manifestation of an unnatural effort to keep it all together. Their obsession with the first stages of their relationship haunts them and makes them look for that brief, intense excitement in other people right after they get married.
This film is mainly about false dichotomies. The successful businesswoman and the unsuccessful filmmaker. The bourgeois and the bohemian lifestyle. The boring suburbs and the chaotic city. The monotonous committed relationship and the exciting affairs. Apparently, you can only have one or the other and, instead of dealing with the conflicting desires, they both decide to escape to the extremes.
The couple’s situation makes us ask, what makes novelty interesting? What makes a blank page more enticing than a complex background? The excitement we feel when we meet new people has more to do with us than with them as the source of mystery. Every new person represents the opportunity to present ourselves from scratch. When we look at someone we just met, they reflect a fresh version of ourselves back to us. Not a heavy, messy, complicated history that we wish we could change, modify, or edit. After we spend a few years with someone, if we don’t have a healthy relationship with ourselves, we will start resenting others for knowing us too well, for reminding us of our past instead of building new possibilities.
Between Us isn’t easy to watch because we might project our perpetual dissatisfaction in the characters, including those dramas that, if seen clearly and with some detachment, have straightforward solutions we can’t reach because of our neurosis, our old habits, as well as our unhealthy and unrealistic ideas about what a good relationship should be. The movie takes itself too seriously sometimes, and the characters never build enough rapport for us to feel too emotionally invested in what happens to them. But it can be enlightening to learn, with the two of them, that nothing works when we base everything on fantasies alone.
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