What ‘Malcolm & Marie’ Showed Me About Toxic Love (& How to Spot It)

“…And because I was 20 years old and I’d never been loved the way you love me, or thought you loved me; I didn’t realize what I was to you.”

That’s it. The line that hit me like a ton of bricks. 

Like many, I was triggered AF by the Netflix film Malcolm & Marie (I’ll call it M&M), a twisted love story of gratitude, ego, and a reckoning of transgressions and things left unsaid. All in one night. I assure you, the movie was as exhausting as it sounds. 

In some of the darkest and ugliest moments of the film, I saw parts of myself, and I didn’t know how to feel about that. It mirrored versions of me that had the biggest cracks–the tormented and vulnerable pieces of me that put a man’s happiness before my own, then resented him for letting me do it. 

M&M reminded me of all the times I went against my better judgment to save something that shouldn’t be saved; the times when I thought it was true love but it turned out to be everything but. 

Simply put, it was the film’s dialogue and symbolism for me. They had me in the first 15 minutes, as Marie’s passive aggression took center screen and cut Malcolm’s gleeful mood at the knees. She was clearly bothered, but reluctant to say why. At that point, Marie’s anger and the pot’s steam were one in the same: hard to grasp but you see it clearly. 

It’s claiming something is “not a big deal” when it is. 

It’s the saying “yes” when you want to say “no” (then being upset about it). 

It’s the rude or underhanded comments that you mask as a joke.  

When we do those things (and so much more) to people we love instead of expressing how we feel, it makes relationships with us insufferable. 

Though I don’t recommend putting a conversation off, it’s important to have them when you’re ready–but you have to do the work to get ready. Unfortunately for Marie, she didn’t get the chance to prepare.

She was right about one thing, though: nothing productive was said that night. It may have been a more productive conversation, maybe in the morning, when they were not as emotionally charged.

“You wanna play fucking dirty? Well let’s fucking go. You wanna hurt me, [Marie] I promise you I can hurt you ten times worse.” 

WHEW. I’ve played this childish game more times than I’d like to admit. Spoiler alert: nobody wins. 

Nothing productive comes from fighting dirty in relationships, but we all do it when we feel attacked. How many times have you hit someone with the silent treatment? Generalized your or someone else’s actions to “always” or “never”? Reduced your relationship to a petty ultimatum? Hit below the belt mid argument? 

“I’m not so petty [that] I throw it out in [an] argument because I’m angry… It’s embarrassing and it’s cruel. And it makes me regret sharing so much with you.” 

 When someone hurls our vulnerabilities back in our faces, it cuts deeply; the place where we let our guard down doesn’t feel safe anymore. We ruminate on every time we might’ve told them too much and every insecurity we shared in confidence–feeling exposed and powerless. 

The infamous bathtub scene of M&M was the personification of having your vulnerabilities exposed. We watched painfully as Malcolm obliterated Marie’s existence while she sat naked curled up in a bathtub. Just to make her feel how he was feeling. When he went on to patronize Marie for her failed suicide attempt, I decided that I wasn’t rooting for that relationship. 

I try to steer clear of people who do this. Marie hit it on the head: it’s embarrassing and cruel. That’s not what love should feel like. My flaws are not weapons to use against me, and I won’t allow anyone to do so. 

“You just need a reason to be needed because if i don’t need you, then what the hell am I doing with you, [Marie]? You want control because you can’t imagine the reason I’m with you is because I love you.” 

You know what else makes me run for the hills? People who are needy or need to feel needed. I believe it’s what the psychology streets call “codependency”. 

I wrote about codependency before and how it doesn’t make for a healthy relationship, but there’s something to be said about how it turns love into something transactional. When we become someone’s problem solver, caretaker, or rescuer and expect love in return of our good deeds, it leads us down a dangerous path. It makes us manipulative and we may equate our worth with how necessary we are to someone. 

Like Malcolm implied, codependent people can’t stand the idea of being someone’s choice; they prefer if people can’t function without the things they do for them. They can’t handle being chosen instead of needed because it means that others can ‘opt out’ of them and leave freely. 

I think that may be what bothered me most about the film: after an exhausting night of toxicity, they didn’t opt out of the relationship. 

But I guess that’s what made it authentic, right? We aren’t done until we’re done, and we rarely leave a toxic situation when we should. 

We should also, however, understand the difference between a bad night and a bad relationship. Whether romantic or platonic, if you find yourself in a similar situation to M&M on a regular basis then it’s likely time for you to end it. 

The decision to stay or leave is always our own; it’s up to us to ignore or take heed to the signs when we spot them.  

Do you agree that Malcolm and Marie had a toxic relationship that needed to end? Share why or why not in the comments! 

Written by: B. Sierra

Leave a Reply