You’re sitting face to face with your partner, one foot apart, staring directly into each other’s eyes. Your partner suddenly asks you pointedly, “Am I the best sex you’ve ever had?” You must answer this question while maintaining eye contact. There’s no interruptions, no distractions — you have to answer them.
If the above scenario makes you wriggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. 30 couples of various structures and orientations including polyamorous, monogamous, straight, LGBTQ, young, and old subjected themselves to this same intense interview process when they participated in the new interactive documentary The And, a collaboration between The Skin Deep, Noise, and filmmaker Topaz Adizes.
Okay, so what exactly is an “interactive” documentary? It’s essentially a Choose Your Own Adventure-style film, but with less wizards and dragons, and more brutal honesty and cheating confessions. And it comes in the package of a curated viewing experience for each particular audience member. When you go onto the film’s website, you’re prompted with a handful of character-defining questions like “What’s your strategy while arguing?” and “What’s your ideal relationship?”
Topaz Adizes, the film’s director, explains to Nerve that in order to create that tailored, interactive aspect of The And, “We used a unique tagging system to build a film that would be relevant to you based on how you answer the questions. Rather than a binary system, or a static chatbot model, we did a lot of research on questionnaires and personality tests and did some really cool decision tree modeling.” During my brief questionnaire, I had put myself down as a “compromiser” and someone who was “committed.” Out spat a 96-second video just for me — with a sweet scene, a tearjerker scene, and hard-hitting confessional about leaving your girlfriend after college. I’d said I was flexible and serious, and then came content that tugged at my flexible, determined heart strings. Adizes explains that his tree modeling, “helped us find ways to connect the way people answer to the type of relationship issues they might be experiencing.”
Finding reflections of realistic relationships is something that plagues modern society. We are force-fed a diet of cookie-cutter rom-com characters and outdated paradigms that don’t relate to the true, nuanced experience of dating in 2014. We can try to define what will make a relationship successful — either by spitting in a tube and undergoing genetic testing or trying to play the numbers game — but in reality, the one thing that can truly determine the longevity and stability of a relationship is a deep, long, and honest conversation. Maybe that conversation will ask you what scares you the most about your relationship.
The And — a title which refers to “what connects us,” according to Adizes — gives everyday couples a window of communication they might not be normally inclined to open. The project is asking couples to answer (and ask) the most probing questions like, “Who has more power?” “When is the last time I disappointed you?” “Why do you love me?” and “What would you do if I cheated on you?” The tryptic screen the documentary plays on invites the audience into a visual intimacy with the couple, crowding the space between them. We can learn a lot from the facial and body language of real couples, from the hesitation and directness felt in each answer. Sustaining relationships are not about first impressions or immediate physical attraction, they’re about lasting attraction and understanding — that comes alive in every The And video as they unfold.
If you feel like you missed out on an opportunity for candor or self improvement in your own relationship, The And provides audience members with question prompts and directions for creating your own conversation (without the ever-watching cameras, of course). Adizes says, “the aim of The And is to expand one’s understanding of various relationships and invite them to question their own…to create a space by which you can deepen your relationships with those important in your life.”
After getting lost in the interviews of the 30 couples (yes, I watched many, many personalized amalgamations of The And) I determined one thing: we need these brutal conversations. We need full-blooded honesty and reaffirming silences. Most of love occurs in that uncomfortable space, in the “the and” of life, where we can be truly vulnerable and let our guards down. What did Adizes glean from studying over 30 couples in modern relationships? “We are living in a time where we are all testing and questioning love and our structures of family and relationships in a way never done before in human history,” Adizes says. “As we continue growing and learning about one another, maintaining honest communication is a fundamental part of that.”