“Monogamy”

I wrote this review for SCAD’s online student media outlet District as part of their coverage for the Savannah Film Festival. District set up a microsite for their coverage, and this review is still available there.

Obsession is something never happens in halves. When obsessed, people throw themselves into it completely, ignoring and hurting those closest to them.

That is what Theo (Chris Massina) experiences in “Monogamy.” Theo is a photographer, and on some days he shoots wedding pictures. On other days, people hire Theo to stalk them with his camera.

Theo’s fiancée, Nat (Rashida Jones) takes his photo stalking in stride. Their wedding is coming up in three months, and both seem content as they banter about Nat’s upcoming open mike performance. However, once Theo starts taking pictures for a blonde woman calling herself “Subgirl” things take a turn for the worse.

She becomes Theo’s obsession. He cannot stop looking at the pictures he snaps of her, which include scenes of her masturbating in a public park and having sex with an anonymous man in a car.

As his obsession grows stronger, Theo alienates Nat. After she cuts her thumb and develops a staph infection, he forgets to bring her guitar along when he visits her. A few days later, he stops visiting her, ignores her phone calls and digs through a box of her belongings while wearing one of her shirts.

All this is supposed to suggest that Theo is going through some horrible type of struggle, but it is hard to know what, exactly, is causing it.

For a film about complete obsession, director Dana Adam Shapiro goes less than halfway in depicting it. He seems to think that if he inserts two long shots with Theo or Nat staring at nothing in particular that the audience will suddenly understand what they are thinking.

Shapiro, who co-wrote the film, also throws in Theo’s friends discussing their difficult or failed marriages, and three awkward scenes where Theo has to deal with newlyweds that seem uncomfortable with each other. It all hints that Theo himself might have doubts about marriage.

However, it remains just a guess, since even Theo cannot explain what he is thinking.

When he has his one chance to tell Nat what is going on, he wastes it. He cannot even form a complete sentence. Finally, he asks Nat for “more space.” Before leaving, she replies: “I can’t. You have enough space.”

Asking for more space does relate to the fear of getting trapped in a marriage, but there must be more to Theo’s motivation than that. Certainly there is a larger reason for his intense attraction to Subgirl and his drift away from Nat.

However, Shapiro does not delve into the depths of Theo’s mind, which keeps us from fully comprehending his struggle. Without those details, “Monogamy” does not depict a heartbreaking case of a man’s obsession consuming him. Instead, it shows only a strange, sad, broken story.

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