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The documentary "Thoroughly Modern Marriage" explores modern beliefs about an ancient institution.
The documentary "Thoroughly Modern Marriage" explores modern beliefs about an ancient institution.


Doc explores the state of marriage - and its future Add to ...

Marriage rates are declining - we're tying the knot later, if at all - and yet we remain a culture obsessed: witness the slate of wedding-related reality TV populating the airwaves.

This contradiction has not gone unnoticed by Sue Ridout, a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker who became interested in exploring marriage in modern times when she came across what she found to be some surprising statistics coming out of the 2006 census.

For the first time in Canadian history, she learned, there are more single than married people in this country.

"It just seemed like a really interesting tipping point," Ridout said this week. "It raises all kinds of questions."

For her documentary Thoroughly Modern Marriage, which airs on CBC-TV's Doc Zone on Thursday, Ridout profiled couples in some non-traditional situations: an interracial couple for whom race appears to be a non-issue as they prepare for their $100,000 wedding (they won it at a wedding fair); a 45-year-old bride overcoming her fears about divorce; lesbian wives with a young child; an older couple living in separate apartments in the same house; a young couple who regularly (and separately) engage in sex outside their marriage; and the Quebec parents of two children who have no plans to marry.

Ridout didn't set out, she says, to find a Ripley's Believe It or Not! of married couples, but to examine the state of - and prospects for - the institution. "There are some people who believe it's completely on its way out and is about to die at any moment," she says.

As the Quebec dad asks: "Why in the world would anyone want to get married?"

And yet, they do. Eighty per cent of Canadian women, the documentary reveals, still marry at some point in their lives.

"I think we've been so inundated with divorce stories and that's one of the reasons I wanted to do the documentary in the first place," says Ridout. "Divorce understandably has received a lot of attention, and it should receive a lot of attention. But I think in all of those stories we kind of lose track of the fact that there's still an awful lot of people getting married."

Perhaps, as a marriage celebrant in the documentary suggests, it's because people are still hopeful. Perhaps, as is the case in the "marriage capital" of Canada - Hanover, Man., where nearly 70 per cent of adults are married (20 per cent higher than the national average) - it's because the bride and groom are bowing to religion or tradition (or their parents).

Or perhaps, Ridout shudders to think, it's all that wedding dress TV.

"I think that unfortunately amongst twentysomethings, the marriage has become very much confused with the wedding. And I think that confusion has everything to do with consumer culture and with the notion that if you get the right dress, if you get the right venue, if you get the right DJ, the right ring with the right coloured diamond, that that's going to somehow hold meaning for the marriage," says Ridout, 54. "And of course those of us who have been married for a while know that it has nothing to do with that. I think it's disturbing, I do."

Married for 26 years and the mother of two grown daughters, Ridout bristles at the notion she should be congratulated for accomplishing marital longevity. "It makes me uncomfortable when people say that, because everybody's different, because people divorce for all kinds of different reasons and people stay together for all kinds of different reasons. Because I don't like to imply that something is a success as opposed to a failure."

As for her documentary, she wants to make it clear: This is an investigation, not a celebration.

"The last thing I want to do is come across as some kind of marriage booster."

Thoroughly Modern Marriage is on CBC-TV's Doc Zone Thursday at 9 p.m. ET and PT.

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