Marriage and Divorce in Intolerable Cruelty

The Coen Brothers’ film Intolerable Cruelty is a revisionist “screwball” comedy that, similarly to The Awful Truth, deals with the institution of marriage. The film details how a woman, Marilyn, marries men that are known philanderers and eventually divorces them in an attempt to seize their assets. She claims she is looking for independence, and money is only a means to her end. She and Miles Massey, a divorce lawyer that represented one of her ex-husbands, eventually get married, and she tricks him into signing a prenuptial agreement that would allow her to seize his assets. The film ends, after a great deal of turbulence, with Marilyn and Miles falling back in love while getting a divorce.

Much like traditional screwball comedies, Intolerable Cruelty is a critique of marriage and divorce, but from a different, cynical and ironic perspective. The film portrays several women that get married and divorce in an attempt to derive money and possessions from the marriage. This is perhaps a critique of the shallowness and materialism of American marriage and divorce. The main character of the film, Miles Massey, is a divorce lawyer that views love, marriage, and divorce as nothing more than events to make a profit from. He seemingly has a revelation that opens his eyes to “love” when he gives a speech at a conference, but it soon fades as he learns that Marilyn was only luring him into her trap.

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