John Cassavetes’ “Husbands” is a film filled with kinetic energy from start to finish and it is Cassavetes’ focus on movement in the film that partly helps define it.
“Husbands” begins with a montage of images that recall Chris Marker’s 1962 “La Jetée,” in which the narrative is told through a series of still-images and sound. In this case it’s a party with a focus on four male friends and their masculinity. Despite the lack of movement within the photographs themselves due to their nature as still imagery, Cassavetes keeps the energy going via the change in positions within the photographs themselves.
The use of movement and the lack of movement are used throughout the film to highlight “Husband’s” thematic elements concerning grief. After the opening montage, “Husbands” cuts to a funeral where it’s revealed that one of the friends, Stuart, has passed away. Following the funeral, the three remaining friends Gus (John Cassavetes), Archie (Peter Falk), and Harry (Ben Gazzara) shy away from their responsibilities and decide to go on an adventure where the three indirectly deal with the death of their friend. Their actions range from conversations lamenting their inability to be athletic in old age, drunken parties at bars, and fights in bathroom stalls. It is this latter aspect where Cassavetes perfectly combines the physicality of “Husbands” with the abstract.
Shot entirely in a bathroom stall, Cassavetes fills what little space on screen with the actors’ bodies. The space within the screen due to its closed capacity then becomes intimate yet this intimacy is distorted due to the events on the screen—that is, a fight erupts between the three friends and their actions resulting from Stuart’s death. The actors fight, pause and then speak in an incoherent manner before continuing. It is this frenetic pace that results from the combination of movement and “Husbands’” thematic elements that ultimately makes “Husbands” such a defining and unique film.
The characters themselves are real yet their adventures are fantastical. Watching the film, it would be difficult to discern whether or not to praise their actions and take part in them ourselves through the pleasure of viewing or to lambast them and distance ourselves away. It is this aspect alongside the elements spoken of above that makes “Husbands” a deeply personal film to watch, although one that may be rooted in masculinity.