The following paper was prepared for a graduate level Marriage and Family Counseling course and explores the relational style of two characters in the film Best in Show.
“I was Drinking a Grande Espresso when I met You”
Love, Hate, and Coupling in the Film Best in Show
The film “Best in Show” catalogs, in mock-documentary style, the fictional adventures of show dogs and their handlers. Hamilton and Meg Swan are a married couple whose volatile relationship is shown in painful detail through the film. Mr. and Mrs. Swan present a portrait of a Quadrant Four relationship in their marriage in the ways in which they engage each other, particularly during moments of conflict. By looking at these characters’ personality traits, their relational style during times of calm, and their relational style in times of conflict, it becomes clear that this couple’s marriage can be categorized as a Quadrant Four marriage.
The film opens with this couple in a psychotherapy office, along with their dog Beatrice. Beatrice, they explain with anxious tension, saw them having sex and they are convinced she is struggling emotionally to deal with this experience. True to a Quadrant Four coupling where each partner identifies sources of conflict outside of themselves, Hamilton and Meg find themselves in a therapy office not to deal with their relationship, but to enlist a professional to “fix” their dog- which in many ways is characterized as a stand-in child for this couple.
Meg and Hamilton each have personalities congruent with Dr. Dan Allender’s description of the personalities of individuals engaged in Quadrant Four couples (2016). Meg Swan presents as competent and articulate woman in her early thirties who is professionally and personally highly driven. Meg clearly values style, physical appearance, and above all being perceived as a powerful and wealthy woman. Meg, in both speech and behavior, demonstrates a high level of autonomy, independence, and strength, while demonstrating a failure to communicate her needs, experience emotions outside of anger, or show weakness in the presence of anyone- including her husband. Hamilton Swan presents as an equally professionally successful, intense, and well spoken individual equally bent on exerting control over other people and their perceptions of him. Obsessed with physical appearance, brands, and eschewing conversation with persons he deems less valuable than himself, Hamilton presents some narcissistic character traits. Hamilton uses his intelligence and articulacy to assert control over others and to attempt to demean his wife, who is too independent to cower to him. Both Hamilton and Meg appear to be oblivious to the fact that other characters in the film perceive them as spiteful and shallow individuals with volatile personalities and a relationship characterized by unrestrained drama.
During the few scenes in which this couple is not engaged in relational conflict, their relationship has the appearance of a marriage that includes communication and loving advances towards one another. On a second look, however, it is clear that the Swans are most bonded through experiences when they can mutually share contempt of others. Although this couple appears to share a hobby, dog showing, it is clear that their emotional lives are fundamentally separate, and there appears to be no honor or awe in the relationship. Hamilton and Meg seem never to intermingle in deep union and shared enjoyment of one another. This couple appear to be a classic example of a Quadrant Four marriage in how they have a shared level of other centered contempt and in how they function well as a unit when conflict is kept at bay.
The majority of Hamilton and Meg’s scenes in “Best in Show” illustrate their relationship in the midst of conflict, and it is in these scenes that the Quadrant Four nature of their relationship becomes glaringly obvious. Far from healthy conflict resolution, Meg and Hamilton engage in behaviors and communication styles that escalate their arguments to frantic and violent levels painful to the viewer. In one particular scene Meg and Hamilton lose the plush toy that they believe their dog depends on for emotional stability (despite the fact that the dog is never shown interacting with the toy in any way). Their argument over the missing toy escalates to increasing levels of intentional humiliation of each other. Meg directs Hamilton to climb in the dog crate to find the toy and Hamilton harshly screams at Meg to “Go to the hotel and get Busy Bee. GO! Run!” (Murphy & Guest, 2001). This argument crescendos, after Meg verbally assaults several hotel staff, in a shouting match between Meg and Hamilton in the middle of a crowd, each spouse with no concern for how their words and actions might affect the other. Meg then hits Hamilton with a dog toy and Hamilton verbally retorts with violence before both partners walk away, still enraged.
Throughout the movie, the Swans are portrayed as high strung and violent, while their dog Beatrice, with few exceptions, is friendly and sedate. However Beatrice, like a child in the family of a Quadrant Four couple, eventually reacts to the couple’s violence and chaos by acting out- in this case by attacking a judge in the show ring and in the process publically humiliating Hamilton and Meg.
The film ends with Meg and Hamilton back in the psychotherapy office where the film began, this time with a new dog, Kipper, and the implication that Beatrice has been scapegoated to the extent of literally being removed from the family. The Swans present on first glance as a slightly neurotic but loving couple- amiable but lacking in deep delight of one another. On closer look it is clear that during times of disagreement the couple is violent and volatile, with no concern for the harm their words and actions might bring their spouse. On this basis it becomes obvious that this couple’s marriage can be categorized as a Quadrant Four marriage.
Allender, D. (2016, February). Gender and Communication. Lecture delivered for Marriage and Family at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Seattle, WA
Murphy, K. (Producer), & Guest, C. (Director). (2001). Best in show. [Motion Picture on DVD]. Burbank: Warner Home Video.