Hope Springs Eternal?

Last-summer’s film Hope Springs follows a middle-aged couple, Kay and Arnold (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones), as they undergo a week of marriage therapy.  Kay demands that they make the trip.  And why shouldn’t she?  As a middle-aged woman with grown children, Kay works at Coldwater Creek to pass the time.  There is no mention of Kay’s career or personal aspirations.  Yet we understand that Arnold has some sort of established business job.  And so we are unfazed by the failing marriage.  What sort of interest should a man have in his aging wife?  He admits he fell in love with the young Kay because she was pretty, yet refuses to look at her aged face when they have sex.  Really, why should she have any interest in him if he shows preference for the television and ranch chips over her?  One of the film’s winning points is its honest portrayal of the discomfort that a couple can have sexually even after 30 years of marriage.  The audience commiserates with their situation because it is so familiar, but we have to admit that a relationship like theirs is a failing model.  What the movie really screams is that women just cannot be personally fulfilled or respected by their spouses by performing housework as an “expression of love” anymore (Cowan 177).  While the film is a great attempt at approaching marriage with honesty, it seems to me that hope will likely not spring if I craft a future for myself like the one presented in the movie.

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One Response to Hope Springs Eternal?

  1. I haven’t seen this film. But, my parents saw it in theaters last summer. I got a call in the middle of the night from my mother, who was distraught and crying because she felt like the woman in that film. And I was completely at a loss of how to help her. But not for the obvious reasons.

    My parents have been married for twenty-seven years. My mother as worked as a self-employed artist for the past eighteen years, while my father has held a well-paying management position at a local tech company for nearly thirty years. While I was a kid, my mother picked me up from school. My father took me to school in the morning, cooked, did laundry and every form of household handiwork. We employed a series of housekeepers over the years. I never really understood this division of household labor, as my father seemed to do most of the work in and out of the home.

    But when my mother called me last, she told me how under appreciated she felt. How unloved by my father. How he doesn’t value her or the work she does. And I really had nothing to say to her, betraying my own biases regarding the value of housework (read: it’s important).

    All of which goes to say marriage—and relationships in general—are complicated. Basically, you can adjust the balance of housework, have a marriage in which a wife pursues her dreams, and still have a disaster. Crafting an enduring, equal, loving marriage seems nigh impossible, when expectations for household labor are unbalanced and the basis of love perpetuated by culture seems to be 90% physical and 10% cliché. The only hope, I think, is honest communication, though even that may not be enough.

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