“Take This Waltz:” On being semi-happy

If anything is perfectly clear in Sarah Polley’s probing film, “Take This Waltz,” it is this.  The lead character, a fledgling writer named Margot, and her sensual artist neighbor, Daniel, are meant for each other.  They are the perfect love match, two people whose essences are so intertwined, so natural, so deep that you have the feeling their fate together is foretold and inescapable.

To hammer home the power of this attraction and its seemingly inevitable conclusion,  Polley devises an erotic pool scene in which the two would-be lovers swim in an underwater mating dance, just as you might imagine aquatic animals have done since the beginning of time.   Surely a life of utter bliss is in the cards.

One problem.  Margot is married to a real nice guy named Lou who is writing  a cookbook on chicken.   Lou is as mundane as the book’s subject.  But Margot loves him too but in a totally different way, juvenile and shallow yet caring.  She wants to please Lou, even though her deepest feelings for him are limited.  At one point she complains to him how terribly hard it is for her to try to seduce him.  Lou is bewildered.

Grounded in family and friends, Lou is steeped in the traditional views of love and marriage.  A wife should not have to work to seduce her husband.   The two know each other so well, Lou feels, you do not have to talk much other than to say over and over, “I love you.”  Margot and Lou are often seen mouthing words of love through the barrier of a glass window.  They see each other but they can not touch.  They do not speak the same language.

But there is more to her love of Lou  “He is the kindest and gentlest man I have ever met,” Margot tells Daniel as they approach a potential adulterous encounter.  “I can’t hurt him.”   So Margot attempts to live “in between” her true love and her marriage, not fully engaged with either of the men in her life.

If Margot, played by Michelle Williams, and Daniel (Luke Kirby) are living intensely in the moment, the playful Lou (Seth Rogen) drifts far into the future.  He is so in love, so infatuated with Margot that he dreams of dying old with her.  He wants to confess to her at age 80, for instance, that it was he, not a mechanical failure, that has pummeled her with cold water for all those years while she was showering.  It is Lou’s traditional and idealistic expectations of marriage that widens the hole in Margot’s life and makes possible the connection with the ever-circling shark, Daniel.

For Margot and her 5-year marriage to Lou, it is the crucial moment many young marrieds face around their 30th birthday.  Do you struggle on with what you have?  Or do you alter your life to be happy and a fully complete person? Do you wean yourself away from the expectations of mom and dad and close friends and begin to seek your own life?.   In that sense the film’s title is like exploring the marriage vow, “Do you take this man . . . ?”

In the end of this engaging film, directed and written by Polley, there are no clear answers.  Just questions.   Like what is happiness and fulfilment?  How can you attain the bliss so crushingly absent?

“Take This Waltz” is about understanding the human condition, the nature of life and particularly love in an imperfect and chaotic world.   We are after all not like aquatic animals.  For us, troubling consequences and unrelenting sadness often travel with a search for happiness and love.

Maybe, if we can accept a state of semi-happiness, Polley  seems to suggest, we have a chance to become true adults and to be as happy as we can.   Perhaps it is this unwillingness to accept compromise and a less idealized view of love that has driven Margot’s sister-in-law, Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), into alcoholism, delusion and self-destruction.

Margot is smarter than that.  And she is braver.  She describes herself early on as “being afraid to be afraid.”  Finally unshackled Margot slowly uncovers an important truth.  There are no matches made in heaven.  It is a truth she will have to live with.

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