Swimming Alone


Muriel's Wedding is a tragic comedy set in the town of Porpoise Spit, Australia. The movie is about Muriel, an ugly-duckling character, and her one motivation in life, to get married. Her motivation arises from the fact that all of her friends from high school, the ones she tries so hard to fit in with, are walking down the aisle. Marriage becomes a symbol of peer, social and self-acceptance. Muriel's Wedding constructs and explores an opposition between the heroine's desire for a wedding, but not for marriage, within a dysfunctional context.

It is difficult to restrict this text to one genre as it is a generic hybrid, and the cultural specificity of the film has made it unlike any film that would result from the mainstream "Hollywood" variety. What makes Muriel distinctly Australian is the nature of suburbia. Muriel has been raised in a low to middle class family. Her father aspires to a political career, whilst her mother is emotionally abused by the father and siblings. She is clearly suffering from depression and low self esteem which is evident right from the beginning of the film. Muriel's siblings are unemployed and show no desire for a better future and the father, Bill reinforces his families' low self esteem by constant negativity. Muriel's desire to get married is at some level her opportunity to escape this environment.

Throughout the film, Muriel demonstrates avoidance behaviour. Music plays a large part of this process and becomes a symbol of freedom from her environment. She allies herself with a group of "trendy" and popular girls in an effort to disassociate from her lower class, dysfunctional family. Her motivation to improve herself and her circumstances become the main focus of the film. She believes that if she is accepted by these girls as a peer, her life will improve and she would have "made it". Her desire for a wedding represents both an escape from her present life and also the opportunity of peer acceptance and social standing within the community.

Through the use of symbols it becomes obvious that Muriel is more concerned with constructing a wedding than she is with the traditional convention of marriage. We see her compulsively selecting wedding attire and reinforcing the desire for a wedding by collecting iconic photographs of herself dressed in these gowns. Dressing up for a wedding is juxtaposed with dressing up for a performance of Waterloo, which celebrates Muriel and Rhonda's new-found friendship later in the film. It is at this point in the film that music as a symbol of escape transforms to a symbol of freedom for Muriel. This change coincides with Muriel's personal transformation (with Rhonda's influence) from a person with low self-esteem to a confident young lady. Another part of Muriel's transformation at this point in the film is the change of name from Muriel to Mariel. Yvonne Tasker notes in her book, Working Girls, 1998 that "female friendship is redemptive in a narrative that constructs marriage as an obsessive fantasy bound up in performance for Muriel (the spectacle of the wedding). Music is used to underscore the camp elements of the drama to undercut the seriousness of the wedding and the institutions of marriage/heterosexuality to which it is aligned?".

The wedding itself, set as a staged moment is not constructed as the expression of romance though it is clearly a statement of fantasy for Muriel. In almost a reconstruction of Muriel's father's attitude toward her, Muriel's husband displays little fondness for Muriel and in fact views her and treats her with disdain. She reconstructs with her choice of partner the type of relationship she is attempting to escape from, however this becomes less important than the acceptance she believes the wedding will bring. The wedding is a social event, rewarding Muriel with publicity, status and money, but lacking the devotion and love usually attributed to the convention of marriage itself. It is clear then, that Muriel's desire for the wedding has little to do with her concept of what a functional marriage should represent. Status as represented by wealth is a feature of this film's ability to socially divide the classes in an attempt to align wealth with happiness. Muriel's father is obsessive about such issues and this finally contributes to the breakdown of his own marriage. His life with his new partner, wealth