Spectacular is how one can describe “Diorama.” This Swedish language film follows a couple who are tired of their monotonous lives, and following a confrontation regarding it, their lives and their marriage slowly start unraveling. The beauty of the film lies in the fact that the characters, though unlikeable, are people who we see around us. “Diorama” goes as far as to question the validity of the institution of marriage and does it so artfully that while it opens up the floodgates of discussion around the topic, it stays away from controversy. More than the storyline itself, it is a representation of the actual thought behind what keeps a marriage going. Let us take a look at how “Diorama” unfolds.
“Diorama” starts with Frida and Bjorn as a couple, very much in love and looking forward to starting a life together. The next scene cuts to them being disturbed in the middle of the night by their children. After 10 years of marriage, this has become a daily occurrence. Frida, as the mother, is the primary caregiver who barely has any time for herself, and Bjorn is a typical man who does the bare minimum to help out his wife. In one of the first few scenes, he tells Frida that he plans on taking a trip on a bike he wants to buy, and Frida does not look so happy about it. It is just an example of how he assumes that she would hold down the fort while he continues to do the things he wants. This indicates that he does not carry much of the caregiving responsibilities.
On one such day, Frida takes the children out to play while Bjorn decides to stay back home to take a break from his job. How does it escape his notice that his wife is not able to take a break at all? Either way, Frida runs into her old friend of hers, Linda, when she takes her children out. While talking about their lives, Frida mentions how she is tired of the constant monotony of her life. She gets a little jealous of Linda, who talks about how she is living well after her divorce and meeting someone new. The conversation makes Linda think about what she wants most in her own life. That night, she tries to talk to Bjorn about this, but he refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem. This right here is an instance of how lack of empathy can affect a marriage. As much as we don’t like Bjorn here, we have to acknowledge that his behavior is reflective of most men. Frida has just started realizing that she might be alone in the marriage after all. She and her husband were supposed to navigate their lives as a couple, but she is doing that alone, with her children, and Bjorn is just a shadow in the background.
The next day, Bjorn encourages Frida to go out and have a good time with her friends. Later that night, he even runs into a friend of his and decides to have a good time. But the night doesn’t go as expected for either of them, and they end up sleeping with other people. Both of them are aware of the other person’s infidelity and have decided to get a divorce. Bjorn moves out of their apartment, and they take turns caring for their children, so as to not let them suffer more due to their divorce. There is a scene here where Bjorn crashes Frida’s car, and both of them get into a literal shouting match. Bjorn accuses Frida of cheating on him, and she shouts back that she is aware of his indiscretions as well. In a fit of pure rage, she says everything that she has probably wanted to say for years. She lets him know that he is a selfish person who has never thought of their marriage and is only concerned with himself. Bjorn obviously doesn’t care what she says. It is really hard to be sad for him. He continues to be a man-child throughout, who refuses to take accountability for his own actions and blames Frida for everything. When he moves out, he takes half of their furniture, leaving the apartment almost empty.
At the parent-teacher meeting, he just sees another chance to blame Frida for the children’s hardships and requests to be updated regarding their academic progress, individually by the teachers, so that he doesn’t have to see his ex-wife. What did Bjorn expect? Should Frida continue to HR manager their family and his life while he continues to be unbothered by everything? It is precisely his behavior that makes us understand the actual efficacy of the commentary on the animal kingdom and the history of humans. Marriage is an institution that has adapted itself to the patriarchal norms of the world and is prevalent due to its romanticization and the social conditioning that makes one opt for it. That is the reason Bjorn continued to blame Frida. Because he couldn’t fathom how he was wrong. Everything he was doing was socially acceptable, and everything Frida did was against societal norms, no matter how much we knew her to be right. In his mind, he was the victim, which made him rightfully resentful.
After her divorce, Frida started therapy as she had wanted to for a long time. She confesses that she blames herself for her marriage ending as she was the one to start it all. Her therapist advises her to stop taking Bjorn’s behavior personally, accept the past and move on for the better. Surprisingly, as against therapy as Bjorn was at the beginning of “Diorama,” he starts going for it as well. It might be the best thing he has done in the entire film. Therapy is a lot of things, but its underlying concept remains giving the person seeking it an emotional education. Bjorn starts to get better as he goes and is able to let go of his resentment towards Frida. At a school event where his children are performing an act, he runs into Linda and her ex-husband. Seeing them be on good terms while peacefully co-parenting, he realizes that he can do the same with Frida and that it might not always have to be guns and swords with her. Frida herself sees Bjorn with their neighbor Christine and realizes that they are dating. As an olive branch, she invites them to dinner with her and her boyfriend, Ben. And “Diorama” ends with the group enjoying a gorgeous Christmas Eve in each other’s company.
It is often said that spending your life with a person is different from marrying that person. Because the latter is more about adhering to a structure, which is not always in the best interests of either party. Bjorn remained an emotionally immature man who just couldn’t see the error of his ways. And Frida was unable to live a life on her terms because of an emotionally unavailable husband and the responsibility of three kids. One may say that she chose it, but did she really? Did she realize that Bjorn would only care about himself after a point? Did she realize that she would not like the life she was working towards? In the discussion around “choice,” we as a society often neglect what constitutes it. When one side of the spectrum is extremely romanticized and presented as essential to one’s life, and the other side is just passed as ‘okay and acceptable,’ are we really presenting someone with a choice? “Diorama” answers that, and we love that they had the courage to introduce this conversation, which most people are not ready for. We really hope to see more such content that puts the words to these questions and attempts to make one think about their choices or lack thereof. It validates us in a way only cinema could.
“Diorama” is a 2022 Romance Drama Film directed by Tuva Novotny.
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