“Husbands and Wives” (1992)

By Daniella Nichinson, Staff Writer

As Woody Allen continued to make films, it seems that New York acted as more and more of a sanctuary in the midst of increasingly darker characters and storylines. “Husbands and Wives” is such a case. In a story about divorce, it’s difficult not to descend into melancholy, but with New York as the backdrop, it prevents us from doing so and from losing sight of hope.

Gabe (Woody Allen), an English professor at Columbia, and his wife, Judy (Mia Farrow), have a fine marriage. It isn’t perfect, but relationships rarely are. When Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis), their two good friends, announce their divorce, Gabe and Judy are rattled, completely taken aback that such a happy couple could ever split up. Thus, they are prompted to examine the problems in their own marriage and are tempted by other love interests.

It is fitting that Woody Allen plays a Columbia professor in this film. To him, New York is a city of intellectuals and intellectual pursuits. Moreover, he is an English professor, a writer, one of the most romantic careers a person may have, and Woody knows that. Teaching at a prestigious university in the heart of New York is a dream for most, but he is able to turn it into a reality, giving himself, and the viewers, an experience he never had.

Juliette Lewis’ character, Rain, and Liam Neeson’s character, Michael, represent a youthful exuberance of life, in direct contrast to the dullness and repetitiveness of Gabe and Judy’s relationship, and Jack and Sally’s. Their roles have the same purpose as does New York. Rain is vibrant and returns an energy to Gabe that he has not felt for years in his marriage to Judy. Michael is a refreshing alternative to Gabe for Judy and brings her back to the feelings she had as a little girl. The city fills Gabe and Judy with the same vitality and zeal for life that it does to all of its inhabitants and they reminisce of an older time when they were both young and dynamic.

“Husbands and Wives” is unlike any other film Woody Allen has made, in the aspect of how it is filmed. The camerawork is messy and frantic, evocative of Godard’s “Breathless,” and simultaneously documentary like. It is meant to parallel the tumultuousness of the upended lives of Gabe, Judy, Jack and Sally, while the setting of New York grounds their turbulent feelings. The streets of SoHo and interiors of luxurious homes are what reminds us that the protagonists’ relationships are not as terrible as they may seem, though many scenes try to present the opposite.

The idea of divorce is terrifying for some. After spending years with one person, it is hard to imagine suddenly leaving them. “Husbands and Wives” is a stream-of-consciousness film, letting us peer into the relationship woes of ordinary people and how they affect and influence those around them. To put it in Woody’s own words, the film tells us that “maybe in the end, the idea was not to expect too much out of life.”

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