The movie begins with the dialogue, “Mom and me versus you and dad”. The statement levels the field, on which the movie continues to play with the psyche of its viewers for a full hour and fifteen minutes.
The story line had been no less than a tennis doubles between Joan and Bernard, where Walt and Frank got stuck like two amateurs in the game between pros. This game spirit is well maintained throughout by the couple in their competition for career, kids, asserts (favorite books), and even the cat!
The movie well portrays the conflict between the couple while maintaining the different shades of grey in their character. Bernard was shown as an egoist, with narcissism and no sense of responsibility for his actions, but he was also shown having a vulnerable side of him. He lacked the capacity to contain emotions this frequently made him feel that others are being ‘difficult’. His inability to express his emotions was shown by his usage of words like – ‘comic timings’, ‘hurts my feelings’ and ‘it’s painful’. Joan, on the other hand was an emotional, sensitive women with dreams of romance. Her tendency to jump from one relationship to another shows her failed attempts to fill the vacuum that Bernard’s emotional handicap had left in her.
The movie being based on 1986 runs with a time gap of two decades from the year of its production (2005), in an era of typewriters and no cell-phones; Ironically, it hardly mentions much about the past story of Joan and Bernard, thus leaving much room for interpretation. Joan admits that when she first met Bernard, she was in awe with him. A small town girl with little experience in love was swept off her feet by an ace like him. Disillusioned in love, they married the person they were willing to see in the other one and after a few years the honeymoon phase got over and reality set in.
Having a baby one year into marriage would have been a difficult transition for them, topped with Bernard’s amour-propre being crushed by the demands of publishers. With bills and rents piling up, assumingly he had to start working as a teacher to make both ends meet. Joan on the other hand could be lost in catering to the needs of a baby and an emerging writer within her. Thus, Overall sense of failure accompanied with Joan’s flourishing career and her affairs ultimately led to the downfall of the marriage.
Ironically, their PhD in literature did little to help the couple to converse their issues to each other. When the words failed, they started using their children to communicate their problems. Things that should have been discussed among the couple were being brought up by through the kids, be it wife’s infidelity or husband’s inefficiency in joint custody.
The couple’s vulnerability got passed on to the kids and they started mirroring the distress of the parents. The older son loses his self and becomes a reflection of the father. Having no views of his own he merely parrots Bernard and finds easier to pretentiously lecture about facts and theories rather than acknowledging his own feelings. Example – he seemed unperturbed and more worried about the cat when he heard of the divorce, than anything else.
He channels his aggression and hatred onto the mother and blames her for the divorce. The younger one being more vulnerable tries to form resemblance with the mother or identify with his idealized philistine teacher. Feeling all unaided, without his brother’s support he resorts to dealing his distress with his new found knowledge of sexuality. Getting stuck between self-aggrandizing and an emotionally unavailable father and a confused, dejected and guilt-stricken mother the kids felt lost and secluded.