‘Scenes from a Marriage’ is a poignant TV drama miniseries about love, desire, passion, heartbreak, betrayal, family, home, and separation. It revolves around Jonathan (Oscar Isaac) and Mira (Jessica Chastain), an American married couple, and their complex relationship. As their marriage gradually deconstructs, they begin to vocalize their frustration, aspirations, anger, and regrets to each other. ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ offers a remarkable insight into human interaction and celebrates love by accentuating its shortcomings. If this has made you wonder whether the show is based on a true story, here is what you need to know.
Is Scenes from a Marriage Based on a True Story?
‘Scenes from a Marriage’ is partially based on a true story. The HBO show is the American adaptation of the 1973 Swedish series of the same name (originally titled ‘Scener ur ett äktenskap’) directed by the great auteur Ingmar Bergman. He possibly developed the show from his own experience with love and relationship with several women in his life. He also reportedly drew inspiration from the volatile relationship between his parents, Karin and Erik Bergman. However, he was careful not to project himself or his own life through the storyline.
The six-part Swedish miniseries was turned into a feature-length film and released in 1974. In 2003, Bergman released ‘Saraband,’ a TV movie that serves as a quasi-sequel to ‘Scenes from a Marriage.’ Both Liv Ullmann and her co-star Erland Josephson reprise their respective roles. ‘Saraband’ is also the final film in Bergman’s illustrious career. According to Ullmann, Marianne, her character in the original series is based on her. She explained that when she and Bergman were living together as a couple, he asked her to keep a diary for a week and give it to him afterward.
Ullmann maintained a journal to make Bergman happy. However, she only made entries of her positive thoughts and left out everything else. According to her, when she gave the diary to him, he kept it and used it for ‘Scenes from a Marriage.’ But apparently, she didn’t realize that he was using her diary as a source material because not everything she wrote in it was necessarily true. But from that well-intentioned deception, an inherently positive, independent, and humorous character like Marianne was born.
Other sources claimed that Bergman also used his failed marriages to translator and journalist Gun Grut and concert pianist Käbi Laretei as sources of inspiration while developing the 1973 show. Bergman married Gun in 1951. But in 1952, he started having an affair with actress Harriet Andersson. In 1955, Berman became involved with Bibi Andersson. And that relationship lasted until 1959, the same year he and Gun divorced. Bergman was married to Laretei for ten years between 1959 and 1969. But their relationship virtually ended when Ullmann came into Berman’s life in 1965.
In an interview, Michael Ellenberg, an executive producer on the HBO show, spoke about the need to revisit Bergman’s classic and insinuated that their version should be seen as an adaptation and not as a remake. “What seemed exciting was to take the same DNA, same material, and see what resonates now and what doesn’t,” Ellenberg stated. “What’s changed in the world between men and women and husbands and wives and what’s the same from that era.”
Series creator Hagai Levi did not entirely agree with the characterization of the two protagonists in the original series, so he decided to switch the dynamics in the adaptation. In the original, Johan is the one who cheats on his spouse, but in the HBO series, Mira is unfaithful. In their rendition of ‘Scenes from a Marriage,’ Levi, who underwent a divorce himself, wanted to focus on the “price of separation” and not on the “price of marriage.” “The fact that you’re locked in marriage – it’s not so true anymore,” he said. “But what is true is this unbearable lightness of separation. People are just leaving and moving on, because this is the society we live in.”
The HBO miniseries is not the first project that has sought to pay homage to Bergman’s 1973 show. Woody Allen, a lifelong fan of Bergman, made several thematically similar films to ‘Scenes from a Marriage,’ including ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Husbands and Wives.’ Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’ is another project that Bergman’s miniseries has clearly influenced. So, HBO’s ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ carries the essence of several people’s experiences but is not a direct reflection of any two people.