The entertainment industry struggles to tell positive stories about married couples, which is a shame. As a happily married man quickly approaching my 9th anniversary, that makes me feel disconnected from (if not underrepresented in) many stories I experience. What follows contains SPOILERS for various TV shows, movies, and comic book story arcs. You have been vaguely warned.
Shortly after our wedding, my wife and I went on a movie date to see Julie & Julia in theaters, which struck me both then and now as having an unusually positive depiction of marriage – two marriages in fact! It still stands out to me as an anomaly. And I recently saw A Quiet Place starring real life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt and to a lesser extent felt the same way. In the latter film, not only marriage but parenthood is portrayed in a good light.
Contrast those examples with a TV series like Downton Abbey, where the audience is strung along with “will they or won’t they” suspense over a central couple, only to have the husband tragically die quickly after the much-anticipated marriage is finally formed. See also When Calls the Heart, which also kills the husband character almost immediately after the honeymoon. Is it so hard to tell interesting and compelling stories about a husband and wife? Must TV series continue to hit the romantic reset button and rely on another several seasons of “will they or won’t they” widowhood?
This phenomenon is not isolated to big budget soap operas. Longstanding married couples in superhero comics have also bit the dust, in one way or another. Peter Parker / Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane was undone in the controversial ‘One More Day’ story arc. Likewise, Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane was undone during the ‘New 52’ reboot. Most recently, a slow buildup to the wedding of Batman and Catwoman ended with a case of runaway bride.
The much-loved romance of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, continuing as a married-with-children couple in the Expanded Universe (now “Legends”) novels, was undone in J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, where the couple have essentially gotten space-divorced and also seem to be parental failures. Another example: I love Christopher Nolan’s body of work, but ‘dead wife’ seems to be a recurring plot thread in almost every film.
What are we to conclude from all this? Is the entertainment industry currently run by a bunch of child-of-divorce Gen X-ers who are supremely cynical about marriage? Is art simply reflecting the dim view of traditional marriage currently held in Western society? Are writers just not willing to do the work of telling interesting stories about happily married characters without falling back on easier plot devices?