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‘Malcolm and Marie’ Dives into the Complexity of Relationships

The romantic drama, which follows a couple’s conflict in real time, explores the unique dynamics of a 21st century relationship.


For as long as humanity has existed, conflict has always fascinated us, whether it’s between groups or on an individual level. In the world of cinema, almost any plotline has to do with winning, from the Avengers fighting supervillains to legal dramas that take on a new case every episode. In real life and cinema alike, arguments range from peaceful discussions to ruthless attacks. For the protagonists of Malcolm & Marie, they seek to kill. 

Well, not literally. The film is set in the classy temporary home where they stayed while Malcolm directed his film, from which he hopes to become “the new Spike Lee.” The couple has returned from the premier, and the movie follows them as they converse — well, more like verbally attack each other — about the night’s events, in which Malcolm neglected to thank Marie during his speech.

Over the course of an hour and 46 minutes, the characters — impressively portrayed by Zendaya and John David Washington — debate various aspects of their relationship, their history, and the creation of Malcolm’s movie. One of my biggest takeaways had to do with the nature of their fight: they both held nothing back, and thus had extremely effective communication.

Sure, the conflict was brutal and at times irrational, but the couple had no need to beg for information. Marie and Malcolm poured out their hearts and souls in order to make the other understand their perspective. In many relationships, communication and misunderstandings can be a couple’s downfall. A lot of the time, our insecurities or complicated emotions make it difficult to get our points across in a disagreement.

Perhaps Malcolm and Marie know each other well enough for these insecurities to have no influence on their fighting, but it appears that their shared passion is what really allows them to dig deep and seek the true problem. Am I suggesting that couples strive for Marie and Malcolm’s intensity when it comes to conflict? Absolutely not, because if my partner told me “You’re a f*cking featherweight, a level-one boss, I can snap you like a twig,” as Malcolm tells Marie at one point, I would think that our relationship had passed the point of no return. 

This irrationality is what makes the movie so beautifully compelling. The characters go from screaming “I hate you!” in each others faces, to “I f*cking love you,” two scenes later. However, just these lines aren’t what makes their dynamic most relatable to the viewer. As I watched the film, I felt most drawn to the way that Marie’s objectification coexisted with their dependency on one another in their relationship.

When it is revealed that Malcolm’s film was based on Marie’s past, her argument becomes much more appealing, and it is easier to see the villain in Malcolm. The audience is torn between the two and not sure who to root for – but in the end, I came to one conclusion: women can be objectified, even in circumstances where they appear to be on an equal playing field. Marie’s feistiness and persuasiveness is evident, yet Malcolm is still able to use her to his advantage. This results in a feeling of powerlessness that anyone who identifies as a woman has experienced.

Despite moments of extreme misunderstanding, Malcolm and Marie demonstrate great dedication towards each other. In one night, fumes of fury and screams of rage interspersed with romantic rejoice lead the couple to see one another better. Malcolm & Marie is a must watch, and it beautifully proves that through clear communication, the human race is capable of finding peace, on both an individual level and the grand scale.