“Olive Kitteridge”—Scenes from a Marriage, or A Bitter Edge
The HBO mini-series based on Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Olive Kitteridge” delivers big time! With a stellar cast led by the astounding Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins, we see the two main characters Olive and Henry vacillate between love and despair, kindness and absence of human connection. Scenes from a marriage with a bitter edge.
The main character, Olive Kitteridge, is intentionally the most puzzling and difficult to empathize with. She is more an anti-hero than a protagonist you identify with and hope for. There are glimmers of her compassion as the story winds on in this four-hour drama, but the darkest moments are the most unforgettable in the first half of the narrative. Like “August: Osage County”, the mother is a child’s worst nightmare. Olive, like Violet Weston, has been damaged so deeply by the family she loved, that the only ones she can care for are strangers or acquaintances. Those closest to her suffer the most.
Her husband, Henry, is sympathetic at the beginning but a slender bridge between his kind, supportive side and his darker, minefield of neediness slowly reveals itself.
Themes of suicide, depression, cruelty, infidelity, desperation, aging and love run through “Olive Kittredge” like a never-ending storm, with bursts of lightning and thunder and an intermittent, quiet drizzle that gives the viewer a needed relief from the piercing agony in this family’s lives and those of other townsfolk in the small Maine town, refuting the belief that small communities care for each other.
This intergenerational saga is a portrayal of a miserably unhappy couple and their son, in which each is obsessed with his or her own happiness but has no clue how to achieve it. The emotional center of the narrative centers on how neither Olive nor Henry is aware of what impact they have on others, nor how they are not always right.
But as twenty-five years of marriage pass, a growing awareness, especially on the part of Olive, surfaces and she slides into a begrudging insight. The last lines resonate with emotional power and are impossible to forget—A seventy-five year old Olive mutters: “The world baffles me, but I do not want to leave it yet.” Perhaps her unhealed wounds are starting to heal.
This is a powerful, very dark production rich in character and language, adapted from a mesmerizing literary source!