It’s hard not to muse — even with little confirmed information — on the demise of such a surreally glamorous, even exotic public couple as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. From the beginning of their relationship, they have invited us to watch them and ponder them.
There was the provocative, edgy photo spread in Palm Springs by Steven Klein in W Magazine to promote the couple’s film, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” which they shot in 2004. By the time the photos came out in July 2005, Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were separated and divorcing. Whether the photos represent just a good modeling job or a couple hot for each other doing a modeling job, the magnetism was there and, soon enough, they would be a public couple.
And, clearly, anyone who negotiates a sale of pictures of themselves posing with their newborn baby, Shiloh, in 2006 to People Magazine for a reported $4.1 million knows the public’s appetite for interest in them is insatiable. (Yes, they donated the money to charity — but they would never have gotten the deal if they weren’t insanely popular.)
Then last year came the movie they starred in together — “By the Sea” — a dark tale of a gorgeous, intense couple going through intense marital strife. (I admit I never saw the movie. Not a lot of folks did. It was a box-office flop.) When they did the publicity for the movie, they were peppered with questions about whether the movie was a hint at their own lives, which they laughed off. If you had a bad marriage, you wouldn’t make a movie about it, one of them essentially said.
Jolie admitted they fought sometimes — like any other couple. “We have days when we drive each other absolutely mad and want space,” one British paper quoted her saying. Innocuous enough. Until the Tuesday announcement.
And then this odd grace note: Us Magazine reported they spent their second wedding anniversary late last month together at dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel and stayed one night as well. I can’t imagine spending an anniversary at an elegant hotel when I had an inkling I’d be filing for divorce about three weeks later. But, then, when Pitt and Aniston were still married, they were seen strolling on a beach in Anguilla one day before they announced they were separating.
Of course, it’s impossible for outsiders to know the dynamics of a marriage whether it’s going well or on the verge of collapse. The last time outsiders got that completely right was when Prince Charles and the late Diana separated. Their whole lives were about publicly representing the royal family, and they were so regularly followed by the British press corp that the media could simply count up the days they were apart and know something was awry. Their separation was the most anticipated celebrity marital breakup ever.
I think we were all stunned by the Brangelina breakup because they seemed to have a truly deep love for each other. Long before they got married, he adopted the children that she had adopted on her own. In the very personal articles she wrote about her surgeries — a prophylactic double mastectomy and an oophorectomy — to better her odds of not getting the cancers that had viciously struck her mother, grandmother and aunt, she movingly mentioned the support of her husband. Just a year and a half ago, she wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times about getting a worried call from her doctor, who thought something looked amiss on one of her tests. She wrote that she immediately contacted Pitt.
He would later recall that moment in a joint TV interview that the couple did with Tom Brokaw for “The Today Show.” "I was out in France, and Angie called me and I got straight on a plane to return,'' he said. "Seeing my wife have to be her strongest and knowing that it's the scariest news is terribly moving.”
They sat side by side. They were promoting their movie “By the Sea,” of course. But the memorable parts of the interview were about the medical crises they seemed to have weathered together. She said: “I knew through the surgeries that he was on my side and that this wasn't something where I was going to feel less of a woman because my husband wasn't going to let that happen.”
That was in November, not even a year ago.
People break up. Life changes. Neither celebrity nor celebrity couples are immutable. We know all this, but it’s still a surprise when we are reminded of it.