How Have Perceptions of Divorce Changed in Film?


The re-addition of ‘Marriage Story’ a film following Charlie (played by Adam Driver) & Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson) divorce while raising their young son has sparked debate and discussion about the depiction of divorce in Film & TV. The film is noted for following the breakdown of a marriage in which the protagonists attempt to maintain an amicable relationship which finds them unable to maintain their amicable approach.


Films are a way to connect with their audience and as a divorce is one of the most important cases in someones’ life – it’s very interesting to see the way in which divorce is portrayed and explored on screen. With a number of famous films and television programmes covering the topic of divorce from the effect that it has on families to the legal aspect of the divorce process – what has changed in perceptions of divorce and what can we learn about the way that divorce is portrayed on the big screen?


Modern Attitudes to Divorce – ‘Marriage Story’



‘Marriage Story’ arguably depicts divorce in a modern setting with an investigation and depiction of a spouse that realises that their marriage only suits one party – a major reason or catalyst for a divorce to take place. This shows a modern and candid look into the ways that relationships develop during and after the divorce process but critics say that the film does not focus enough on co-parenting when a divorce takes place.


When comparing ‘Mariage Story’ to a classic film demonstrating divorce – it’s highly interesting to see how attitudes and approaches to divorce have changed over the last few decades. When comparing ‘Marriage Story’ to ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ it’s interesting to see how the films differ being 40 years apart as well as having similar themes by following a couple going through a divorce while having to look after a young child.


‘Kramer Vs. Kramer’ 40 Years On



A film that caused a massive cultural impact in the US and beyond upon its release in 1979 – ‘Kramer Vs. Kramer’ was the highest-grossing film and swept the Oscars four months later winning 5 Oscars including best picture and best actor and supporting actress for Dustin Hoffman & Meryl Streep for her first film. The film marked and reflected a shifting of attitudes in regards to the way in which the roles and ideas of motherhood and fatherhood were changing and the film shows equal weighting towards both opinions of the mother and father during the entirety of the plot.


The films differ in the aspects of divorce that they focus the lens upon with ‘Marriage Story’ choosing to focus on a marriage in which one partner does not respect the desires or dreams of the other. ‘Kramer Vs. Kramer’ on the other hand – focuses on the desire of the father figure to continue to be a father and a father who seeks to reject preconceptions that he cannot be a single father to his son. 


Although this is the focal point of the film – Meryl Streep has little time to convince viewers of her role so it may be hard for the viewer to make an unbias decision based on who is to blame for the divorce or the breakdown of their marriage. In comparison – ‘Marriage Story’ looks to assign blame to a workaholic that is obsessed with his own desires and scoffs at any dreams that his wife has. This highlights one of the most common reasons for modern divorce and both films show ideas and conceptions of divorce at their time of release. 


Which other films are an interesting insight into divorce or really painted a picture of a couple going through the divorce process? Let us know in the comments. 

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