How Watching 'Malcolm & Marie' Allowed Me To Reflect On Past Relationship Traumas

A brilliant film that allowed me to reflect on my own trauma.

Zendaya (Marie) John David Washington (Malcolm) Netflix

Since the release of Sam Levinson’s quarantine project, Malcolm & Marie, many people have taken to social media to voice their opinion on the almost two hour movie. 

It takes place over the course of a single night, in one location, and was edited as a black and white film. It follows the characters of Marie and Malcolm who are in a relationship and have just come home from the premiere of Malcolm’s new movie.


Within the first minute, you can already sense the tension as Zendaya’s character, Marie, bulldozes into the home, while John David Washington’s character, Malcolm, is taking his sweet time, obviously still enjoying the success of premiering his first movie.

When I first heard about the movie that was filmed during the past summer, I was interested. I adore Zendaya in Euphoria and other projects. I also knew of Sam Levinson from his work on Euphoria and Assassination Nation

So naturally, I went in with very high hopes and was especially intrigued by the style of filming. Of course with the pandemic, Levinson had to be strategic in what would be the best way to keep the actors and crew safe, so it was probably a no-brainer to stick to one location for the entire shoot.


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Many critics have pointed out controversial facts about the movie, and while those are all extremely valid opinions, my own film critique come down to the relationship between Malcolm and Marie. They're extremely toxic to one another, and probably shouldn’t even be in a relationship at all, but there are little lessons that I took from watching the movie. 

From the first argument between the couple, we see Malcolm become more of the aggressor, with him taking things to the next level by yelling — especially over anything Marie was saying.


It made me think about the importance of civilized and mature conversations in relationships.

Nothing can be solved if one or both parties are just shouting and acting in an aggressive manner. The solution to resolving an argument, especially in a relationship, is to listen and work through problems together, instead of jumping down the other persons’ throat.

In the movie, it’s as if Malcolm’s default is just to raise his voice, which Marie tells him before the start of their argument.

It’s also important to be seen, heard, and acknowledged in a relationship.

Marie’s only problem with Malcolm is that he didn’t thank her when giving his speech at the premiere of his movie — a movie that he wrote about Marie and their relationship. She only wanted a thank you, a point she brings up multiple times whenever they're arguing. 


Marie’s desire is a valid one: It's critical in relationships is being able to be seen and appreciated. The reason I’ve found myself in many situations and disagreements with past partners is because I don’t feel appreciated or valued. Watching Marie try and explain that to Malcolm was eerily reminiscent of my own conversations with people I’ve been in toxic relationships with.

Sometimes a simple thank you is all someone wants.

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There was also a scene in which Malcolm is speaking to Marie while she's in the bathtub, and he says a line that's stuck with me since:

Malcolm says: “I love you, but I don’t need you.”


Of course, Malcolm didn’t mean that in a philosophical way; he meant it as a way to hurt Marie. And while it did the trick, that one line had me thinking about a different meaning.


It's important in relationships to make sure that you’re your own person. It’s detrimental to rely on someone for everything. You shouldn’t need that person — nobody should need anyone else —but of course, love is very different from need.

That sentiment made me reflect on my own relationshipsm especially the earlier ones from when I was still a teenager. It was hard to differentiate between co-dependency and just wanting to be around that person all the time. I struggled with earning to not need someone for everything and instead find whatever I’m looking for within myself — and having a relationship just be a bonus.

There are introspective lessons to be learned while watching Malcolm & Marie, and I enjoyed dissecting my own life after viewing it.

It is, of course, a brilliant acting job on both Zendaya and John David Washington’s end, and certainly a film worth watching.


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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram