The Toxicity Of Love
February 7, 2021
The Netflix movie “Malcom & Marie” dropped on Friday night. It was one of those films I saw promoted on (black) Twitter several months back that I knew the culture was going to be consuming this movie in heavy amounts. I mean, the aesthetics of the film alone drew enormous amounts of intrigue, from the black and white film, the melancholy musical notes, the stripped-down casting (only two Zendaya and John David Washington) were present on the film and its premiere date (the first week of black history month). Everything within this film with imbued with blackness.
So you know the film was going to be a must watch in ‘The Williams’ household. Now I won’t go into how I rate the movie; I will reserve that for the film critics the film obviously takes umbrage over. No, I want to focus on the concept of the toxicity of love, and more specifically black love, and how it’s represented in film. As we settled in and indulged, within the first few minutes into the film, I could sense the tenseness of the characters. That tenseness started to permeate into the room as well. Already I could see my wife searching for identification in the characters-either one of them-trying to figure out why she should be emotionally invested in this film. Twenty (20) minutes in, like clockwork she utters “yeah you do that as well…” or “I see some of you in this Malcom character…” however before we delve deeper into that…
I want tell you about a song looping in my head of recent…it’s performed by the R&B artist Lucky Daye and music impresario Babyface. The song is called “Shoulda…” a nice bop that plays on the classic Toni Braxton song “Love Shoulda Brought You Home”, that was written and produced by of course Babyface. So why I am bringing up that song now? Well, because it applies to me….no not in the obvious sense of what the song entails….but in a figurative manner. You see, I have come aware and admitted openly that I have a terrible problem with aloofness. It affects my work environment and home life. I can be present physically, but mentally I am somewhere else-I am sort of like Dr. Manhattan in that sense (shout out to the Watchmen comic nerd reference). So when I listen to that song, I think about how love should’ve brought you home last night. Because frankly, even though I am home literally every night- (I once drove home in the middle of the night from another city, just, so I could kiss my girls even though I had a hotel and wasn’t expected to arrive until the next morning)- I can admit that sometimes obligation, duty and routine brings home (and to work), but I am not always present. Love should’ve brought me home last night, not my obligation. That’s my acknowledged toxic trait.
At any rate…back to the film and our watching it…
So my wife goes on to state that there was some resemblance of characteristics of Malcom in me… I took some umbrage of that… Now admittedly she acknowledged this was not a spot on characterization and that for the most part him and I are nothing alike. Most pointedly I almost never raise my voice at her or my children. But I do acknowledge the grandiose self-importance that Malcom puts on himself, and how both Marie and my wife are often anchors to our ego. My wife has acknowledged several times over that she willingly steps into the background and allows me to take center stage. I never asked her to do this, and not even once, but somehow out of observance, this is a role she has designed to play. It is through this I already knew early on that the central antagonist in this film was insufficient appreciation from Malcom. It is a conversation that we have had ad-nauseam in my house, to the point where I now aim-(maybe out of instinct)-to go out of my way to tell my wife how much I appreciate her. I also try to show her in different forms as well. But no matter how many times I do it, say it or display it, I can never do enough, and that’s okay. But like my wife’s patience with me, and her love, my level appreciation should be limitless. I have no bottle cap on how I many times I need to honor her. As long as there is breath in my body, I will fall short on how often I need to uplift the person who is the pillar of my success and growth.
Ultimately Malcom finally did say “Thank you..” but it wasn’t until the end of the film. The amount of emotional energy it took for him to utter those two words was astonishing. He had no problem saying ‘I love you’, in fact he said that numerous amounts of time throughout the film. But as anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can tell you. Love is not enough to maintain it, you need other substantive elements to continue to make something work. Acknowledgment and appreciation are some of those things.
As far as the film goes, the acting is wonderful, it actually reminds me of watching a stage play. Not much fluff, heavy on dialogue and character development. The most intriguing aspect for me was the amount of vitriol between the two characters. The yelling and screaming the two displayed at each other was exhausting. Both my wife and I acknowledged that neither one of us could stand to be in the room-let alone in a relationship-with someone (people) who exhausted such intense emotional energy. It is possible to embark on an introspective conversation on self and relationship without screaming. The other issue which was problematic about the characters (especially Malcom) was how they used each other’s history as a weapon in the argument. I can tell you that this is a dangerous formula for any conversation. There are landmines you do not cross in a relationship argument and someone’s personal history is the biggest one. Thankfully my wife and I acknowledge that attacking someone with the sword of their past is a definite no-no. Because once you use a person’s deepest and darkest points against them-there is no coming back. Nobody wins in that situation. What do you get for cutting someone so low and so deep? Pain. That is the only reason to embark on such a trip. But you see that is the inherent problem of love. The baring of someone’s soul to another, that you lay bare and allow them to access to places only thoughts would go. Now you have let someone in and are at their mercy. Love in of itself is toxic, because you often ignore red flags and logic and allow the heart to design the path. There is no rationality of love. If it made sense, then people wouldn’t fall in and out of it so quickly. It is due to this inherent toxicity, that adding pain and intentional hurt to the situation is dangerous and ugly. And that is what I received from the movie Malcom and Marie. The danger of allowing pain to dictate the conversation and ultimately the relationship. It is interesting to me that black films surrounding love are often traumatic. I am not sure what that says about our consumption of this art, their depiction or how we as a people view ourselves.
One thing, I can say, is that there was little love in that film, Malcom & Marie. Yes, the words were uttered profusely by Malcom, but he entered that house with presence of self-absorption and Marie for her part, cooking Mac and cheese at 1am after movie premiere felt a sense of obligation to indulge this man even though she was clearly in pain. Either way, love didn’t bring them home that night.