How the creators of “Scenes from Marriage” rediscovered the classics

As for marriage, there are few things that are no longer said, written, sung, drawn, or filmed. Still, there is perhaps no greater source material left for modern entertainment. The union – how we feed it, abuse it, honor it and lose it – is an endlessly shaped topic, a fact Haggai Levy, director of HBO’s Scenes from the marriage a remake used in his favor. There was no doubt that he could form something new from the clay of the famous 1973 original, starring Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson. He just had to find the right reason.

Levy’s version follows many of the same rhythms as Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, which saw a couple, Marian and Johan, in 10 years of marriage and eventually to a heartbreaking divorce. At the time, the miniseries was a bitter shock to Sweden; It is widely credited with sharp jumps in divorces across the country shortly after the broadcast of the sixth and final episode.

In a way, Levy’s HBO series is a response to this reaction: The show explores how we, now, decades later, have redefined the interconnectedness of marriage, satisfaction, work, gender, gender, and devotion. The show asks what has changed – and most importantly what hasn’t. With small but significant changes to Bergman’s premise, Levy and his co-author Amy Herzog have created a stand-alone story that shows reverence for its roots by asking various questions about a new era.

Nowhere is it clearer than in the casting of Mira and Jonathan, the new Marian and Johan. In these gender-inverted roles, Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac give Juilliard-trained performances for a lifetime, with deftly subtle but magnetically harsh movements and intonations. Mira, not Jonathan, has a thriving career. Mira, not Jonathan, wants an abortion. Myra, not Jonathan, cheats on her husband and leaves her family. Maybe such a gender reassignment you shouldn’t feel dramatic in 2021, but it’s hard to deny. Scenes from the marriage it works because it plays with your expectations, with the progressiveness and maturity you thought you had developed.

Now that the fifth and final episode has aired on HBO, Levy and Herzog are finally able to reflect on the creative choices they have made, and why these changes have helped them make an almost impossible Hollywood feat: a masterful restart. Below, the director and the writer take us through the ingredients they made Scenes from the marriageand how they came together in an important – and meaningful – finale.


Why now is the right time to remake:

Duke: We [had] I met a few times and started talking about the original, in a gentle, input way. Trying to surround what it was, what it meant at the time, what we both loved about it, and what our entry point might be to look at it again. Hagai had this feeling that he wanted to do it again … It was as if he was being chased by him, not knowing exactly what the final game was. We had let go of the gender reassignment, but we hadn’t settled on one story. And then, at one point, I think it became clear to him that this was what he wanted to do.

Left: The question is not correct why to rework it, but if you have a good look at it. When I felt I had a new perspective on the whole thing, then it became a very interesting exercise.

    About why gender-changing characters was an intriguing premise:

    Levi: In the beginning it was about my resentment towards the main two characters in the original. When I came to work [this show]I realized I didn’t really like it [Johan] at all. He is a chauvinistic pig; he is cold. I mean, he’s a hero we shouldn’t feel anything about. And [Marianne], placing a woman who was so weak and dependent is something that is difficult for me. So that was the main reason to turn [genders]. I started [realizing] immediately that this is what I need to do with this series. This is a very interesting study of gender and modernizes it immediately.

    Duke: There are so many things that have changed at first glance in terms of marriage, heterosexual relationships and women’s ability to occupy the professional sphere. Things that were shocking when [original] the series was made in 1973. not shocking now. One thing was like, How do you tell a story in a way that honors the original, but also creates some of the surprise power of the original, now that so many of these things have become more commonplace?

    There was something about being the woman leaving [the man]. She doesn’t say, “I don’t care what happens to my child in the next few months,” but she decides that even now, in America, it’s taboo to say, “I’m going to follow my passion and motherhood to be cursed. “It simply came to our notice then.

    Even more personal for me is that there is a way in which feminism in a certain environment encourages women to try to imitate men’s lives, or to try to claim for themselves the things that men have without responding to the question, “Are these things as moral or spiritually positive to begin with? ” [By the finale]Myra may have lost a huge amount in the course of this series, but something she has gained is a kind of insight that was so far from the beginning when it was so blinking and so caught on the treadmill of desire.

      On the electrical chemistry of Isaac and Chastain:

      Left: I meant Jessica [for the role of Mira] for several years. She was not available, so I threw another actress, but suddenly [Chastain] was available. It really was a dream come true. It was a miracle for me that suddenly, a month and a half before the shooting, the circumstances changed in the way I managed to catch her.

      Oscar, I met him in New York a year ago and immediately felt his passion for the project. And I must say that Oscar [from the beginning] he wanted Jessica in that role. So when we suddenly took her, everything changed immediately. The chemistry was all from the first moment. It was so immediate on the first day. Really, it was just amazing.

      Duke: What we certainly knew about them was that they were both exceptional athletes. They are theatrical actors. They are trained at Julliard. They can take a 29-minute photo four times in a row without blinking. They never miss a line. They wear it every time. They wear it when they are not on camera, for each other. You know? I mean, it all became even more obvious and more amazing to me as I worked with them. But we knew we were working with people with that exceptional capacity. This gives you a lot of freedom as a writer.

      scenes from the marriage

      Jojo Wilden / HBO

        For the decision to show that Isaac and Chastain interact before each episode:

        Left: It’s so interesting because there [have been] so many different interpretations of [that decision]. Everyone felt different, which is good. It was a very instinctive decision, a very intuitive decision – just a month before the shooting or less. It was not in the script. I was just an instinct when I saw them and saw their chemistry. And I saw them as human beings and I began to know them. It seemed to me that I had to say, “This [story] is for something outside of that couple. “It’s more abstract than that.

          Including the abortion scene in the first episode:

          Duke: It was something we thought about and went on for a long time because it’s so busy and because politics dictates that if I’m going to write an abortion scene, I’m going to want to write a really happy abortion scene. I don’t want to portray anyone arguing, “Look, they made a mistake.” On the other hand, I think women should have the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies. And I think women should have the right then to experience whatever feelings they want to experience. So, something that was important to us was that, unlike the original, Jonathan really wanted this baby and Mira didn’t. I think this is something we don’t see much. And I think it’s really real.

          In the original, abortion has this extremely clinical kind of patriarchal feeling. I wanted to capture the reality of this type of healthcare, which is that many of the people who care are women, and the environment is quite warm. This has its own kind of drama: You are in a warm and relaxed relationship with a provider while making a decision that can feel really burdensome, and in some cases really painful.

            About telling a divorce story in 2021:

            Left: Perhaps [I wanted to revisit this story now] because divorce has become so easy, perhaps unbearably easy. I think I wanted to say something about how difficult it is to get a divorce. I think culture really promises us, follow your heart, just be free to feel. All these promises are very good, [but] I think that [story]is about how painful it is, how difficult it is, how problematic it is to get a divorce. It was important for me to put this mirror in front of the culture where [divorce] it became almost like something everyone does.

            scenes from the marriage

            Jojo Wilden / HBO

              At the end and why Mira and Jonathan reunite:

              Duke: The biggest change we’ve made from the original is that in the original, both Marianne and Johan are married to other people and cheat on their husbands. And in our Peace she is unattached and does not cheat. She’s cheating in some way … She’s cheating on her contract with herself to be alone. This felt important to me as a change from the original, because I think it’s a choice that many women make, to be alone and not be tied to a man who requires a lot of care.

              Left: I wanted them to reach a point in life where they could be with each other in a freer, more honest way. They went through the war; they already know how they can communicate [without] the institution of marriage. The fear of losing the institution, the fear of losing the barrier is gone – because they have already lost it. This really makes them a different place where they can really love and see each other.

              This interview was conducted in two separate conversations and was edited and shortened for clarity.

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