Damian Rogers

Broken Up

Theodore Collatos, “Broken” (2004)

This short art-school film was shot in a Chicago apartment in the late nineties, around the same time my ex boyfriend and I were breaking up in our own Chicago apartment. I vaguely remember hearing about it at the time because my ex boyfriend’s brother had the starring role. It was probably finished after we parted ways.

My ex sent it to me recently. He said he had found it when wasting time on the internet. The film was weird for me to watch on a number of levels. Besides the eerie sensation of looking back at a past I had almost but not quite been a part of, was the thought, Well, this is certainly not how any of my break-ups looked like.

Here, the relationship disintegrates beneath a moody blue wash to the strains of a discordant yet sensuous Shostakovich score. The pair in the film brood attractively and fight bloodlessly.

All that sullen dignity seems so Swedish to me. By which I mean capital — F foreign, rather than capital — M Midwestern. In my experience, break-ups were always ugly, ugly, ugly, at least in the moment of real root-ripping trauma; in regular life, pain is rarely pretty. Snot drips from the nose, the face contorts hideously, the throat emits cat-like notes of screeching, inarticulate noise.

When my high-school boyfriend broke it off the summer after we graduated, I cried so violently, so loudly, and for so long, that a neighbour I didn’t know — from across the street — knocked nervously on the door to ask if I was okay. I may be more expressive than most, but haven’t we all seen a scene or two?

More accurate to me is this meltdown from “Husbands and Wives,” one of Woody Allen’s angriest, bitterest pills. (I think even “Interiors” had more compassion for its characters.) Judy Davis plays a woman who has been happily, blithely separated from her husband until she discovers he’s moved on more quickly than she has. It’s a genius piece of acting — her character’s total unspooling all the more vicious in contrast to her brittle manner and her failed attempts to maintain a sense of composure. A glass of white wine is an impotent salve in the face of her rage, which is remarkably desperate as it comes streaming out through her tightly braided hair, her high-necked beige dress, her rigid posture (there’s a glimpse of the scene I have in mind at 11 seconds).

Woody Allen, “Husbands and Wives” (1992)

Of course, if you really want to be horrified, just do a search for “couple fighting” on YouTube. The example below is so excruciating, I only feel justified in including the clip here because the footage — shot by a bystander on the streets of Las Vegas — is so poorly lit that you can’t clearly see the couple in question. Somehow the relative anonymity makes it all the more chilling. It’s barely over a minute and I find it nearly impossible to sit through the whole thing. Both parties seem equally contemptuous and contemptible.

The thing that disturbs me the most is the crowd that has formed around them, the people laughing in the background, the other asshole caught on film shoving a camera at them. And they are so far gone into the fight, they don’t care who hears them; they can’t, they’re unable to focus outside their dissolving, venomous universe-of-two.

jazzxxx, “Couple Fight” (2006)

Of course, maybe, as one of the comment posters suggests, it’s totally fake. In which case, hats off.

– Damian Rogers

Ryeberg Curator Bio

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Damian Rogers is a poet, author, performer, and teacher. She is the author of "An Alphabet for Joanna: A Portrait of my Mother in 26 Fragments," about a relationship shadowed by trauma and illness. Her poems, which have appeared in Brick Magazine, The Walrus, Maisonneuve, MoonLit, This Magazine, and Salt Hill, are collected in “Paper Radio” and "Dear Leader." Originally from suburban Detroit, she has lived in various cities, including London, Chicago, and New York, and she now lives in Toronto. More Damian Rogers here.