Movies collide: An Unmarried Woman meets Network

Two characters in two different moves have become tangled in my mind. They were both faced with the same ugly situation, but had wildly different reactions. Both learned that their trusted husbands were leaving them for someone else, someone younger and unencumbered, in midstream, with no warning

Poof! There goes trust, and trust in their own judgment, and admiration for the man they were married to who suddenly reveals himself as a worm. There goes security and companionship and social roles and love, warmth, affection. I could go on and on.

I was young when I saw these films, and hadn’t yet had time to see this happen to my friends or colleagues, though that would come. This was kind of an initiation for me into knowledge of the harm that can come to you when you think everything is fine. I can still see the scenes.

In the first, An Unmarried Woman, Jill Clayburgh’s character flees outside after her husband tells her it is over. She vomits into a garbage can on the Manhattan street. Disgusting maybe, but it looked like just what you’d want to do, begin purging the toxins, after 16 years of marriage.

She didn’t vomit for long, however, and threw herself back into life with fervor, so life as an unmarried woman had its rewards.

In the second, Network, the rejected wife, played by Beatrice Straight in an Oscar-winning performance, launches into a soliloquy of dignity and passion, an attack on her faithless husband and the destruction of their world together after 26 years of marriage. To be capable of such presence of mind and eloquence, I thought, in that situation. How many of us could manage? Especially me who goes speechless at times of trouble.

Of course, it helps that the script was written by Paddy Chayefsky, who had a lot of time to craft the words that probably we all wish we’d come up with if we needed to. He won an Oscar for his efforts.

I don’t know what happened to her character (Louise Schumacher, if you want to look it up), and none of the summaries I found covered that, too busy quoting her husband hanging out the window of his studio yelling, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” I imagine her character was on board with that.

Between the two options, I would take eloquence for sure.

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