How Noah Baumbach Choreographed The Fight Scene In Marriage Story


– [Nicole] If you listen
to your son or anyone, then he’d tell you that
he’d rather live here! – Stop putting your feelings
about me onto Henry. – [Nicole] He tells me
he likes it better here. – He tells you because he
knows it’s what you wanna hear! – He tells me you’re on
the phone all the time. You don’t even play with him – Because I’m going
through a divorce in LA and trying to direct a play in New York! Which closed because I wasn’t there. – [Narrator] One of the
reasons this argument in writer and director Noah Baumbach’s
new movie, Marriage Story, is so intense is because he choreographs it almost like an action fight scene. While characters in his films are usually only attacking each
other with their words. They often move through
physical space in a way that compliments the conflict. We don’t just hear their words but see on screen as characters attack, defend themselves and try to back away. The setting for this
scene is fairly simple. Two characters sit down to
talk through their issues in a last stitch effort to work
out their divorce on their own. But over this six minute
argument, Baumbach, uses blocking and character movement
throughout the entire apartment to bring their conflict
to life on the screen. (chuckling) – I don’t know how to start. (gentle music) – Do you understand
why I wanna stay in LA? – No. – [Narrator] These three
shots show us the major arc of the fight. Charlie and Nicole start on even footing. Charlie tries to leave the fight and finally he goes too far,
regretting what he said. There are five major positions and the four shifts between
these five positions mark shifts in the topic of conversation. The first move from position one in the living room, rotating
180 degrees to position two in the kitchen marks the
shift from discussing why Nicole wants to live in LA,
a big issue in their divorce. – The only reason we didn’t live here is because you can’t imagine
desires other than your own unless they’re forced on you. – Okay. – [Narrator] To talking about
talking about the lawyers and the divorce itself. – So whatta we do? – I dunno. – Nora says there’s no
coming back from this. – [Narrator] As the conversation shifts from current issues they
are facing in the divorce. – Let’s just both agree
both of our lawyers said shitty stuff about both of us. – Nora was worse. – [Nicole] Jay called me an alcoholic. – You pulled the rug out from under me and you’re putting me through hell. – [Narrator] To past
conflicts in their marriage. – You put me through
hell during our marriage. – Oh, is that what that was, hell? – [Narrator] The line
of action moves again. Turning 90 degrees from
position two in the kitchen to position three in the living
room and Henry’s bedroom. – What’s best for him? – Oh, well, I was wondering
when you’d get around to Henry and what he actually wants. – [Narrator] The move into their son, Henry’s bedroom is also timed
as the discussion shifts to him and the couples parenting. The argument escalates as they go from making indirect accusations. – And you’re like my father! You’re also like my mother! You’re all the bad things
about all of these people! – [Narrator] To more direct, personal attacks against each
other and they move again, rotating another 90
degrees from position three to position four in the
living room and dining room. In this moment you can really see how the shifting conversation
is precisely timed to match the characters movement. – You’re all the bad things
about all of these people! But mostly your mother. When we would lie in bed together, sometimes I would look at you and see her and just feel so gross! – I felt repulsed when you touched me!
– You’re a slob. – [Narrator] As the argument
shifts to Charlie’s affair, he moves around Nicole
from the dining room to the living room, almost
180 degrees from position four to position five, where
the argument will end. – You always made me aware
of what I was doing wrong, how I was falling short! Life with you was joyless! – What, so then you had to
go and fuck someone else? – You shouldn’t be
upset that I fucked her! You should be upset that
I had a laugh with her! – [Narrator] We stay in this
orientation as things continue to escalate until they boil
over and we end up here. The changes in position
subconsciously mark for the viewer, changes in topic and we see
the characters literally go around in circles as their argument goes around in circles. Never resolving anything, just spinning further and
further out of control. Along the lines of action in
each of the five positions, there are also horizontal
movements or smaller adjustments to mark the escalation of
conflict within each topic. In the first position, Nicole stands up and changes her angle of attack
as she tries a different, more aggressive approach
to getting Charlie to understand why she wants to stay in LA. – My work is here now, my family is here. – [Narrator] In the second position, Nicole pushes in closer
as conflict escalates. – [Charlie] How could you have her say those things about me? – Jay said them about me too! – [Narrator] In the third position, we see several escalations
and de-escalations. There’s a push and pull
on screen as they escalate from criticizing each other’s parenting to using their own parents as weapons of criticism against each other. – Do not compare me to my father! – I didn’t compare you to him. I said you were acting like him. – You’re exactly like your mother. – [Narrator] In this scene from another of Noah Baumbach’s films, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). – [Matthew] Thought you
were doing the right thing? – You would’ve stayed. – Probably would’ve, yeah, but
I would’ve felt bad about it. – [Narrator] We can see
the same horizontal push and pull along a line of action, used as this argument
escalates and de-escalates. At first, Danny is trying to escape and Matt isn’t letting him. – But it’s a good lesson. Dad can take care of himself. You have to take care of yourself. – No, he can’t, Matt. That’s why he’s where he is now. – [Narrator] Later the tables
turn and Matt is trying to escape while Danny won’t let him. – I can understand that. – Can you? ‘Cause my feeling about you is you can’t. It’s not your fault. But, like dad, you make me
feel really bad about myself. – [Narrator] As one brother
gains the upper hand in the argument, the other wants out. The back and forth, push and pull, rise and fall of conflict
becomes visible on screen. Blocking like this doesn’t
just illustrate changes in the flow of the argument, it can also reveal emotional subtext. You might notice in these
shifts between positions that Charlie is the one trying to leave, moving away from the conversation, while Nicole is usually
the one pushing in, bringing up new topics and
never letting him back out. This pattern fits the characters position in the overall conflict of the film. Charlie wants to maintain the status quo. He doesn’t want to engage in
a conversation that involves understanding why Nicole
wants something different. – It’s not what I want,
I mean, it’s what I want but it’s what was. Was! – [Narrator] Nicole wants
a better life for herself and is having to push
against Charlie’s desires with the divorce, to get that. – You remember that summer I visited dad on Martha’s vineyard? – [Narrator] In another scene
from The Meyerowitz Stories, Jean, tells her brothers about abuse she was the victim of as a child. – When I arrived, nobody met me. I hitchhiked to the
other side of the island. – [Narrator] He emotional
discomfort and desire to distance herself from the conversation is visually apparent through
her movement away from them. Placing trees as barriers
between herself and them. Back with the brothers
fighting in the lawn. Once neither brother is trying to escape, the clash turns into an actual fight. In marriage story,
Charlie becomes cornered. With no where else to
escape to de-escalate, he pushes against the wall and when Nicole pushes again after this. – Are you kidding me? – [Narrator] He lashes out
in the worst way he can. – I’d hope you’d get an illness, and then get hit by a car and die! – [Narrator] And we see
one of the reasons why Charlie wanted so badly
out of this conversation. He was afraid he’d be pushed too far and say something he didn’t want to say. Without his hesitation
that we see expressed through blocking, his outburst
would be less sympathetic. It’s not Nicole’s fault
that he said these things he shouldn’t have and he
should take the full blame as a character but we can understand that he at least didn’t want
to or that he was trying to escape and avoid things going this far, not wanting to lose control. In this way, the blocking in
the scene is actually vital to the scene successfully communicating the emotional subtext and this physicality that
Baumbach brings to these scenes just makes them that much more engaging and visually interesting. Combine it with performance,
editing and cinematography and all these things work together to make the scene resonate with viewers.

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Comments

  1. Seeing behind-the-scenes gives me a newfound appreciation for every scene that goes into creating an entire film. It is such a big inspiration to me when filming upcoming music videos.

  2. When Adam Drivers character goes off on her and says he wishes she dies and falls on the floor to cry .. I knew a guy I like that once… it felt too accurate

  3. I JUST LOVE IT how this new breed of studios and movies and filmmakers who are associated with it are ACTUALLY BEING SO AMAZING and providing A TRUCK LOAD OF inspiration and influence and support for so many new, upcoming, aspiring film makers /actors etc 💜✨🙏🏻

  4. I had to pause this scene multiple times when watching because yelling really sets off my anxiety :(((

    But I still liked the movie

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