Husbands and Wives (Woody Allen, 1992)


“Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.”

So says Ryan Bingham in this year’s film Up in the Air. Though obviously coincidental, Husbands and Wives is probably the biggest thesis on this sentiment ever recorded. In what is arguably his most serious film (some lines are funny, but the plot’s content tells you it’s wrong to laugh), Woody explores the big questions regarding relationships that he hints at in so many of his films, but has never dived into in as much depth as he finally does here: is desire for other partners inevitable over the space of a lengthy marriage? What is the recipe for stability? Is it even possible to be happy being with one person in unity for an entire lifetime? These questions are answered, ultimately quite pessimistically, through the course of the film, as we watch the breakdowns of two marriages and explore their causes and consequences.

The pain this plot evokes is sharpened and made all too acute by a knowledge of Woody’s own love life. Literally months before recording Husbands and Wives, in which both Allen and Mia star, their relationship of 12 years had ended as a result of the former’s affair with Mia’s adopted Korean daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. The age gap between Allen and her was, and remains to this day in their marriage, 35 years. Whilst the film leaves out the quasi-incestuous element of what happened in reality, and Allen’s character does not pursue his Lolita-esque impulses until his marriage in the film has been suspended, Husbands and Wives nevertheless documents the tension caused by newly found desire for others, even if love for one’s long lasting partner remains and exists concurrently. I think we are supposed to sympathise with the real Allen by understanding how unavoidably natural it is to be a ‘shark,’ so to speak. It may be counterintuitive; it may he horrible. But Husbands and Wives is far from a testament to the ability of humans to be monogamous swans.

One Response to “Husbands and Wives (Woody Allen, 1992)”

  1. With its relationship angst and Lolita temptations, Husbands and Wives hits embarrassingly close to Allen’s home. But it also hits its comic target. Nice review, check out mine when you can!!

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