Sunday 19 August 2018

Post-podcast Post on Marion Bridge

How much do you need to know about a story before you hear the story? On episode 65, we talked about the 2012 movie Marion Bridge, based on the play by Daniel MacIvor which premiered on Canadian stages in 1998. On the podcast, we talked around a big plot reveal in the movie in case future audiences might want to discover that development for themselves upon their first viewing. We disagreed about whether it was really supposed to be a secret but listeners to that episode probably made a reasonable guess as to what we were hesitant to say aloud given the clues that we dropped. Indeed, dramas about broken families tend to dip into a limited pool of domestic trauma. The plot synopsis on the DVD box from Film Movement states that family secret in such a matter-of-fact fashion that I believe whoever wrote it believed that that piece of information was taken for granted at the entry point to the story. However, I doubt that it was meant as prerequisite knowledge to the story.

The plot synopsis should give potential viewers enough of a taste of what is to come without giving away the crux of the experience. I could tell you The Usual Suspects is about how a cop’s investigation into a heist gone wrong puts him on the trail of criminal mastermind Keyser Söze. Before deciding whether you want to see the movie, do you need to know that the key witness from the heist is later revealed to be from the planet K-PAX in the Lyra constellation?

Stating the family secret on the DVD liner notes for Marion Bridge would make sense if the information were revealed early in the movie so the characters could acknowledge it and deal with its repercussions. Instead, the movie hovers around the topic with heavy suggestion without making the connection concrete. That is in keeping with the attitude of the characters—three sisters who can’t quite open up to each other and whose emotional repressions keep the lid on their conflicted loyalty to their dying mother. The characters are informed by this knowledge throughout the events in the movie and it affects how they act. The problem, however, is that the audience is not privy to the same information and we may interpret the characters’ behaviours differently as a result. When the movie confronts the family secret, it changes nothing for the characters but does it do anything for the viewer’s understanding of their behaviour?

The movie does not give us a character who serves as the audience's surrogate to discover the family secret for the first time. Joanie does not fulfill this function because she also does not learn the full truth. However, it could be argued that Joanie’s ultimately frustrated query about her history mirrors how the viewer’s strong suspicions about the family secret likewise is neither concretely confirmed nor solidly denied in the end.

Let us return to the question of how much of its finer story points audiences are expected to know beforehand. Doing a quick Internet query, I note that Marion Bridge does not appear in the results when I search for the best known Canadian plays. (Said list includes Billy Bishop Goes to War, Les Belles Soeurs and more plays I have not seen.) Still, this award-winning MacIvor work has been regularly performed in Canada in recent years. Just in 2016 and 2017, there were stagings in Calgary, AB; North Vancouver, BC; Belleville, ON; Ottawa, ON; Fredericton, NB; and Halifax, NS, of course. An upcoming production is the Kay Meek Arts Centre in West Vancouver presenting Marion Bridge starting September 5 to kick off its 2018-19 play season.

As with most plays, the promotional material is limited to a poster, sometimes with text citing its awards pedigree, and no details about the story. Web pages for the productions may elaborate on the setting for the story but certainly no plot reveals. When Daniel MacIvor was interviewed on Global News Halifax to promote the Neptune Theatre staging of his play, he talked about the characters’ relationship to one another but did not even hint that there was a dark family secret.

On reflection, we probably put too much weight on the family secret when we discussed the movie Marion Bridge on the podcast. Neither Chris or I had seen a stage version of the work so we did not have that as a reference point for experiencing the story. I do not know how that revelation is handled on stage but it seems like it is meant to be a surprise for the audience. Whether or not it is supposed to be a big deal we’ll leave for viewers to decide because I’m still not sure how the movie meant to treat it.

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