Divorce was less acceptable in the 1940’s and 50’s, but is more acceptable today. Divorce situations in movies are commonplace. However, many classical Hollywood stars during the early and mid 1900’s and beyond were getting divorced several times though divorce was scandalous.

My impression is that there are too many divorce scenarios at the movies today.

There is a general thread through different kinds of movies featuring divorced men and women, from Night at the Museum (2006), a family film, and Mother’s Day (2016), a comedy.

A couple of the last movies I reviewed on this blog, The Spiderwick Chronicles (reviewed here) and Snitch (reviewed here), have fathers who are divorced. One left his family and the other remarried.

The Hay’s Code

Divorce in old Hollywood movies was regulated by Hollywood’s self-regulating code, The Hay’s Code, in the classical era, from the middle of the 1930’s to the mid 1960’s.

Certain things were off-limits according to the Hay’s Code. The code also said that special care be exercised in the manner in which certain subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized. Those subjects included religion and religious ceremonies (which would include the marriage ceremony) and the institution of marriage. (The Oxford History of World Cinema, page 239).

How this was interpreted was on a film by film basis, but generally, marriage was sacred and divorce anathema in the old Hollywood movie system.

Out of the closet

Since the 1970’s, divorce has come out of the closet at the movies.

The seminal film of a couple parting was Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). A couple divorce and fight for custody of their son in court. It was perhaps the first film that dealt with divorce seriously.

A couple going through a messy divorce, in the black comedy War of the Roses (1989), starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. They first starred together in a movie where they were sparking romance in adventure comedy Romancing the Stone (1984). Why a romance movie then a divorce movie with the same stars? Coincidence or deliberate reinvention?

Or was it honesty?

Divorce themes

I don’t like divorce in movies, but divorce is the way it is in quite a few movies. In the movies, usually the divorces have happened, and the divorcee is getting his or her life back together. They are semi-tragic situations, as the divorce is sad, but the divorcee is getting life back on track.

Divorce situations aren’t celebrated. They may not even be endorsed. They may just reflect reality.

Sometimes, divorce in movies is about situational ethics, where one goes along with love for all concerned.

Perhaps the most penetrating character study I have seen of a woman going through a divorce recently is Blue Jasmine (2013), because at the end, her life is in the balance. She has gone through a breakdown and a divorce, and her future depends on what she decides in a moment. Blue Jasmine leaves us in that moment without telling us what happens next.

Ideals and reality

In marriage there is a tension between the ideal and the reality. Divorce isn’t the ideal, but can be the reality.

The advice given by observers and commentators is to nurture the relationship and of course there are ways.

One may resist the “perfect” marriage, though.  A movie couple without blemishes and flaws would look sugar coated. Striking the balance between flaws and redeeming the relationship is the biggest challenge Hollywood movie-makers face.

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