Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love Parent Guide
There's not a lot to love about this movie. Its focus is too wide to adequately explore both Leonard and Marianne's relationship and his musical career.
Parent Movie Review
I fell in love with Leonard Cohen’s music one memorable day in 1990 when I heard I Came So Far For Beauty on my car radio. The vividness of the tale, the psychological realism of the narrator, held me spellbound. I’ve been listening to his music and reading his poems ever since. So, when I heard that Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love was being released I was eager to learn more about Leonard and his muse, Marianne Ihlen. Boy, was I in for a disappointment…
The hardest part of listing this documentary’s flaws is knowing where to start. Let’s begin with the biggest issue – this movie doesn’t know what it wants to focus on. Is it a story of the relationship between Marianne and Leonard? Sort of, but it doesn’t give us much of a back story for the couple, which makes it difficult to contextualize their relationship. I certainly would have liked more detail on their life experiences before they met on the Greek island of Hydra. To make it worse, coverage of their life in Hydra is brief, and skimping on the heart of their relationship leaves it feeling a bit hollow. The film also jumps around chronologically, making it difficult to know when Leonard and Marianne are together. One moment they’re in Greece, then Marianne’s taking her son Axel to boarding school in England… but wait…Marianne and Axel are in Montreal or maybe Marianne’s in New York. I also wondered if the production is supposed to examine Marianne’s influence on Leonard’s songwriting – but there’s precious little information there either. (Although we are told that Marianne was a great muse for lots of artists because she was a good listener who nurtured them and made sandwiches.) Maybe the movie is trying to be about Leonard’s music? Not likely since his career is treated in broad strokes and only a handful of his songs are discussed in any detail. Sadly, this film feels like a hodgepodge of details from Leonard’s life and career with some bits about Marianne thrown in from time to time. Perhaps the problem stems from director Nick Broomfield’s heavy personal involvement in the story. As he narrates this doc, he helpfully informs us that he was one of Marianne’s lovers when she and Leonard were having an open relationship in Greece. It might have been wise to find a director who had a little more emotional distance from the subjects and could bring some discipline to the story.
There’s not a lot to love about Marianne & Leonard. And there are some things which will cause parental concern, specifically recurring references to significant amounts of drug use, particularly acid, LSD, and Quaaludes. There are also frequent non-explicit mentions of sex, open marriages, and a scene of people skinny dipping. This involves buttock nudity and brief views of women’s breasts – all in a non-sexual context. The film does have a Restricted rating but given that the drug use and sexual content are usually discussed rather than shown, a PG-13 rating would be more appropriate.
The most troubling issue in the movie isn’t even covered by its rating. And that’s what happened to the children of the artistic community on Hydra. While their parents over-imbibed alcohol, experimented with drugs and open marriages, and pursued their artistic and literary interests, the children were left to their own devices, with tragic consequences, including alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide. The part of the movie that discusses these children is truly heartbreaking.
Ultimately, the tragedy of this film is that words of love aren’t enough. They might flicker in the mind, but they don’t fill a life. After the words, Marianne was left with memories, a damaged son, and front row seats at Leonard’s concerts. And he was left with best-selling albums, the Order of Canada, Grammy awards, and regret over “the precious ones I overthrew for an education in the world.” Here’s hoping it was worth the price.Directed by Nick Broomfield. Starring Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins, Helle Goldman. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release July 5, 2019. Updated April 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love
Rating & Content Info
Why is Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love rated R? Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love is rated R by the MPAA for some drug material, sexual references and brief nudity
Violence: None noted.
Sexual Content: Reference is made to open marriages and to taking lovers. A woman talks about lovemaking and having small breasts. A woman’s abortions are mentioned without any detail. A person sings a song with lyrics about a sexual activity. There is a scene where a large group of people are skinny dipping: plentiful non-sexual buttock nudity and some brief views of women’s breasts, again in a non-sexual context.
Profanity: A sexual expletive is used once.
Alcohol / Drug Use: There is frequent reference to drug use, particularly acid, LSD and quaaludes. A man is shown taking LSD. Individuals refer to daily drug use and heavy drinking. An individual mentions people giving acid to donkeys and even to young teens. A young man overuses drugs and winds up institutionalized.
Page last updated April 6, 2020
Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love Parents' Guide
Do you have a favorite Leonard Cohen song? Check out these lists and see if you agree:
Cohen’s most popular song is Hallelujah, which has been covered by other artists over 300 times. In this article, Newsweek ranks some of those covers. Do you agree or do you think another version is better? Cohen wrote approximately 80 verses for Hallelujah and recorded different versions. What do you think of the different verses?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want to read more of Leonard Cohen’s poems and song lyrics, you can look for his anthology Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs.
To hear about Cohen’s life and music in his own words, you will want to get hold of Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters. Editor Jeff Burger has gathered over 50 interviews for this collection.
If you want a biography with a bit more distance, check out Sylvie Simmons’ I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.