LOVE IS NOT TOXIC: Thoughts on Malcolm and Marie

Amy McQuaid-England
3 min readFeb 8, 2021
Marie (Zendaya) in a close up of her face during a traumatic bath scene in the Movie Malcolm and Marie.

Trigger Warning: This piece deals with abuse and toxic relationships and may have spoilers from Malcolm and Marie.

In my last piece, I talked about how Malcolm is the type of man who always dates the most damaged women at the most vulnerable times in their life and then uses those vulnerabilities to extort power and possession over them. And in Malcolm’s case exploited those experiences for his art. Honestly, I feel the need to expand on this after going down the rabbit hole on Twitter and reading many comments under the hashtag #malcolmandmarie. I was very concerned that many young women described this movie as a beautiful love story. They said things like it was raw and honest. Mistaking gaslighting and verbal abuse for “brutal honesty.” This movie was, of course, beautiful cinematically. Zendaya and John David Washington were phenomenal. However, Malcolm and Marie is not a love story. It is a cautionary tale of being trapped in a toxic relationship with a narcissistic prick.

The hard truth is, these types of people feed off your brokenness like energy vampires. Like Malcolm, they find you at your lowest point in life and take mental notes for future reference. Then, those mental notes are weaponized to destabilize you when you get your life back on track, or you begin to push back and question how they treat you. Finally, they bring back every detail of your traumas to remind you that you will never be worthy of real healthy love, and they are the only ones who will ever “love” you.

This is exactly what happened in the bathroom scene. Many people in the Twitterverse were saying Malcolm won this argument. Maybe now is the time to remind people that there is no winning in an authentic, healthy relationship; there is only mutual respect, understanding, and forgiveness. It isn’t about who can throw out the worst abuse, but how two people can find common ground. In this scene, Marie is trapped in the bath, vulnerable, naked, and he unleashes his full wrath of abuse on her because she can’t escape. Malcolm tries to purposefully hurt Marie by listing his past relationships in detail to show her that his movie was not about her. She isn’t worthy of being thanked or even recognized as his muse because her trauma and addiction are not unique, and she is still living. Malcolm tells her about the woman he truly loved, who was also an addict but overdosed and died. He tells Marie that this woman is the person who deserves a thank you. Malcolm leaves the room and aggressively paces back and forth in the hallway to come back in for one final blow. he reinforces that she is not worthy and that the only problem in their toxic relationship is her. Malcolm does not have remorse when he apologies; he is just manipulating her emotionally.

Malcolm can only maintain control over Marie by exploiting her feelings and experiences. People like him need you to believe the narrative that they are the only ones capable of loving you. In reality, Malcolm and others like him are not capable of genuinely empathic love because they are narcissistic abusers. Their love interests are more like charity projects but without empathy. Malcolm uses women in his life to feed his superiority. This dynamic is not love but power. Malcolm is incapable of being in a relationship with someone in a healthy state of mind because a healthy person has boundaries and standards. These boundaries are a protective barrier keeping them from being subjected to emotional terrorism they inflict. In the end, the only raw and honest thing about this movie is it shows the brutal truth of gaslighting, codependency, and emotional abuse. It is not love; it is just toxic.