The Wife: Behind Every Man…

Is a devalued Nobel Prize

Photo by NegativeSpace

A marriage built on a foundation of lies and infidelity began shifting towards an avalanche of anger, regret and humbled egos. It was an arrangement of understood terms and agreements where only the husband benefited until his lies garnered him a prestigious prize. This is the story of Joan and Joe Castlemen.

Let’s first address the title, The Wife. I hadn’t read the book yet, but as a woman I already had an idea of what this film would entail. Wives put up with shit and this film embodied that completely. It tackled so many issues such as infidelity, identity and gender roles. It also gave insight into the later stages of marriage when you’ve fully greyed and your kids are having kids.

Glenn Close as Joan Castleman was an appropriate choice. She can easily play myriad of different characters convincingly. As Joan Castleman, she went in and out of being a regal and confident woman to a stoic, doting and submissive wife.

This narrative of the submissive wife is a very familiar one. One having to fold inward and kowtow to one’s husband is a journey that can be defeating and humiliating. For the one’s who stay, it’s sometimes an understood and accepted duty. It’s apart of the job I guess *shrugs*.

Joan began her relationship with Joe Castleman, her literature professor, in the late fifties. Their initial encounter would eventually lead to a decades long marriage, two children and a house by the sea. Most importantly, their union would also involve an acclaimed writing career for Joe.

Joan was a talented aspiring writer and Joe was a philandering arrogant know-it-all. Their involvement together wasn’t morally sound as Joe was a married man and little ol’ Joan was his emotionally malleable college student. She was also his babysitter *side eye*. Now these types of relationships can go one way or the other. They can last or slowly fall apart apart. Well theirs is the latter. It took a long ass time for their marriage to shatter and disintegrate into a snow flurry of misery, resentment and regret.

Photo by Kevin Blanzy

Joan’s aspirations of being a renowned writer may have been fulfilled had it not been for the rigid climate at that time. As with many other male dominated professions, very few women were being welcomed into the boys club of recognized literary work. Facing such overwhelming inequities, most women like Joan gave up the pursuit of their passions in order to adhere to the expected roles of baby-maker, bed warmer and housewife.

A writer has to write. — Joan Castleman
A writer has to be read, honey. — Elaine Mozell

As the film toggled between the couple in their younger years to the present as a much mature one, it bothered me to see the look of sadness in Joan’s eyes. After almost FORTY years, in a relationship that she gave her all, she left behind what could have been. Joan was a talented writer and even more so than Joe which makes this story a somber one. She made the self-sacrificing decision to put her man and her marriage first for the sake of her family’s livelihood and Joe’s fragile ego.

The Wife addresses the question of who benefits the most from a marriage. I’m gonna to confidently say it’s men. Some of them have this have your cake and eat it too mentality. With a significant portion of society, this is socially accepted. Cultural and social aspects aside, fundamentally, marriages are not supposed to work that way. It’s a partnership plain and simple.

Marriage is a joint venture not a sole proprietorship. It is a merging of two into one whilst keeping your individuality intact with mutual respect at the forefront.

I need you to be the background to my foreground.
— Bernadine Harris, Waiting to Exhale

Throughout the film I kept thinking of Angela Bassett in Waiting to Exhale. Angela’s character had a similar journey in which she built up her man, invested in her marriage and was left with nothing to show for herself. With all that Joan had went through, I thought she would do something crazy. It would’ve been entertaining and vindicating. But then I thought to myself, Joan is a woman of a certain age and ain’t nobody got time for that!

Unfortunately, there was no lighting a flame to Joe’s Beamer (à la Waiting to Exhale) or destroying any of his prized possessions. Joan kept it classy for the most part and her strained one-sided marriage eventually reached a bittersweet ending.

Angela Bassett’s iconic performance. She should’ve gotten an Oscar for this, smh.
I am a king maker. — Joan Castleman

During the latter part of the film, Joe was being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in snowy Stockholm, Sweden. It was there that Joan was asked what her occupation was by another male recipient. Her response was “I am a king maker”. How deflating and demoralizing. That response would be great if it was a mother saying that. For a wife to say that implies that she had to put in work to make him that way and I believe that’s just plain crazy.

What woman wants to live in a man’s shadow and solely invest in his life. Sitting on the sidelines, being your husband’s cheerleader, whilst ruminating in the fact that you never lived out your dreams and desires. That’s not the end game.

We are not here to shape and mold our men into better people or kings. A woman should compliment her man and add to his greatness not overcompensate for his underdeveloped emotional intelligence, commitment issues or problems with his career. Those are tasks that an he has to face on his own before saying I do.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and had a nervous vexing feeling that the shoe would drop at any moment. This is one of the reasons this movie was so good. The intense build up of secrets and lies had me on the edge of my seat. However, there was one thing that bothered me. A few of the actors performances were “wooden” as a young Joan so reluctantly described Joe’s characters from one of his novels. I chose to overlook this issue because the story was so juicy and Glenn’s esteemed acting skills were impeccable.

Although Glenn’s performance was superb, I do have to acknowledge the other actors that made The Wife so entertaining. Jonathan Pyrce, who played Glenn’s husband, made not only the marriage look convincingly real but he had that acclaimed author swag down. Christian Slater was great as well. He was charmingly annoying and persistent as Nathaniel Bone.

A little surprise in the film that I didn’t find out until afterwards was that Glenn’s daughter played the younger Joan. The funny thing is, I should have known because she favors her mother a lot.

I saw an early showing of the Wife in a theater full of mature couples. Everyone there enjoyed the film even the husbands and boyfriends. They seemed to sympathize with Joan’s character which was refreshing to see.

I believe if more men could see things from our vantage point many of them wouldn’t be as unappreciative and detached from our roles as mothers and spouses, but most importantly as individuals.

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