The Dark House of Make Believe

A response to Scenes From A Marriage



My husband and I leave our two daughters playing in our living room, with a babysitter. We are greeted by their two daughters playing on a stage living room, soon to be whisked away by another babysitter. Soon, the actual young ones are all safely tucked in, but it’s a pair of children who remain on stage. Marianne and Johan are excessively unlikeable – him arrogant and entitled, her silly and candied, both utterly juvenile. He’s the tantruming toddler, she’s playing with two doll houses – one a toy, and one their life.

In our own house, our two year old sometimes takes my shoes from the bottom shelf and shuffles around in them – even though she’s not supposed to. A toddler clopping around in her mother’s heels, trying them on for size, dressing up for Book Week. Taunting what she’s not supposed to be doing, unaware of the hazard she’s created when she discards the shoes in the hallway and runs to play with her dolls. Like her, Marianne and Johan play grownups in their mothers’ images, then shed the props in unawareness.

Marianne’s shoes, her true self, are swapped and discarded and tended. She puts them on and takes them off. Sometimes carefully placing them aside, other times tossing them off carelessly or recklessly. Throwing them with venom, posing in them manipulatively, gathering them with shame and hurt.

When we return home, the children both wake with the excitement of their parents’ return. Childish giggles, and a request for wobbly tooth removal. It’s not quite ready yet. The six year old’s milk tooth is being pushed from behind by its adult successor with blood and pain, but also excitement and anticipation. Soon the tooth fairy will visit again. We will write a note at night, with a sprinkle of glitter and a coin, because we love our daughter with all our hearts, and that will make her happy. The pain of the transient tooth will be forgotten as swiftly as the blood will clot and vanish. It will leave a gap of anticipation, and the adult tooth will push into its place, still too big for her child sized mouth. She’s unaware of this though, excited about the fairy magic created for her innocent joy.

But the fairy stories of glitter and rainbows are also the fairy stories of something far more menacing. The tooth in a cup becomes a tooth in a cufflinks case. A rejected, or unnoticed, desire for love, becomes the anger which smashes it. Johan is as unaware and self absorbed as Graham, and there is no fairy dust that can be sprinkled upon that.

When the daughters of Arendelle gallop through the wood in the care of their parents, it saves them. However, there are no Disney endings in Schubert and Goethe; no relief to ward off the ominous threat. There’s no happy ending for Marianne and Johan, nor do they deserve one.

When childish games are played with adult arsenal, the fallout is catastrophic. Shoes abandoned in the hallway are tripped over because of carelessness or blindness, or both. Their danger remains present, if they are acknowledged or not. The father’s denial of the Erlkönig’s threat in no way reduces it. They are not protected. The child is dead.