Content Note: ableism/saneism
Tehran psychiatric hospital has both women’s and a men’s ward, but the men and women live mostly separate lives. One of the doctors would like to make it possible for a few of them to get married, to fulfill their romantic and sexual needs. But his plans are met with a lot of doubt by the other staff, and a lot of excitement by the patients.
The Marriage Project was a hard watch for me. It was so full with paternalistic condecension for the patients, I was cringing my way through the film. In the moments I could look past this, there were some very touching moments, but overall I just don’t think the film realized how harsh things were for the patients it showed.
The Marriage Project could have been an empowering film about an empowering project. A project that opens doors for people who were denied living their lives the way the would like to live them. But that was not the project that was started, and thus it was not the film we saw.
Instead we watch the staff discussing who is even fit for marriage – not based on “are they mentally competent enough to give their consent to this” but just based on the possibility of a successful marriage. As if any marriage outside of a psychiatric hospital needs to pass a “likelihood of divorce” test. Then, out of I don’t know how many hundred patients, a grand total of six patients – three men and three women – are chosen to see if they could find a spouse in each other. Not among them? The couple who has been seeing each other for a decade and who dream of nothing but getting married.
It was a completely dehumanizing process, all under the guise of acting in the best interest of the patients. And then watching the six chosen ones awkwardly dancing around each other when it is clear that they a) don’t know each other at all and are embarassed to declare their interest loudly in front of a group and b) are so lonely, they don’t really care who they could marry. It was excruciating to watch and I don’t even want to imagine what it must have felt to experience it directly.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, then the families got involved as well, having to give their consent to the marriage(s), too – despite the patients being all very much adults (this part, at least, is the same for everybody in Iran, and not just for psychiatric patients). It is no surprise that by the end of the film, nobody had gotten married. Instead it’s a chronicle of a failed project that probably did more harm than good.
Summarizing: a study on how not to do it.