Last weekend Will and I finally watched 112 Weddings, a documentary that’s been on my radar since it first came out two years ago.
The documentary’s concept hooked me from the start: to make ends meet, documentary-maker Doug Block sidelined as a wedding videographer for years. He did it to pay the bills, but after watching over a hundred (112, actually) couples get married over the years, he realized he was sitting on a goldmine of material.
Over the years he’d wondered what became of the couples who hired him. He’d seen them on day one of their married lives, which is the easiest day to make happy. (“You’ve just thrown a ton of money at it—and liquor!” explains the rabbi Block interviews in the film.)
But the real significance of a relationship lies in what happens next. Block decided to follow up with the couples whose weddings he’d captured to find out.
He couldn’t track down everyone, and some wouldn’t talk to him (especially not those whose marriages had ended badly), but in this documentary he interviews a dozen or so former clients, who had been married 3 to 19 years (with the exception of couple #112, who are planning their wedding at the film’s opening and actually get hitched in the final minutes).
Block alternates flashbacks to each couple’s wedding day with candid interviews about how they’re doing now. The reviews described it as “heartwarming.” We found it … really depressing.
As Block himself says, “happily ever after is complicated.” He says that when two people get married, they have no idea what they’re beginning together.
Several of the couples he interviewed were unhappy or already broken up. Several sounded stable but still made me cringe. Every couple had experienced a hefty dose of Real Life after the wedding day, in the form of depression, high-need infants, job woes, kids with cancer, and extended family struggles.
It’s a thought-provoking film, for sure, but it was so painful to watch some of these couples talk—to the camera, to each other.
My favorite couple might have been the two free spirits that didn’t believe in marriage when Block first filmed their “partnership ceremony.” Nearly twenty years and two kids later, they’ve changed their minds about marriage, and it was so interesting to hear them reflect on why, as is the subtext of why their relationship has worked for nearly two decades. (Block films their actual living-room wedding for this documentary.)
I was also struck by one couple that didn’t seem to be happy right now (due to the wife’s clinical depression) but they seemed to think that if they were going to be in the fire, they’d chosen the right person to be in the fire with. They weren’t happy, but their relationship was working.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to see so much unhappiness in a documentary about marriage. As Block says, “Happy weddings are a dime a dozen. Happy marriages are much more rare and therefore much more precious.”
After watching this documentary, happy marriages certainly felt rare and precious, and watching this together was a great discussion starter. But maybe learn from our mistake and don’t watch it Valentine’s Day weekend.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this documentary in comments, along with your thoughts on the complicatedness of happily ever after.