The plot to By The Sea is pretty simple at first: A married couple (played by Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie) go to a small village on the French coast to get away for a while. He needs a change of scenery and some inspiration to finish writing a book and she needs a vacation, seemingly happy to sleep and drink while he does his writing. But as the movie’s marketing campaign implied, there’s much more under the surface.
What the campaign didn’t show is just how deep the emotional turmoil the couple in the story inflicts on each other. Not only that, but also the damage they do to the others around them. Indeed there are multiple plot points that aren’t hinted at in the marketing, which was more concerned with creating a stylistic sense around the movie than selling the actual story.
So the audience didn’t see what exactly lies on the other side of the hole in the wall that’s teased in the trailers. In fact that hole leads to all sorts of revelations not only about the couple we’re actually following but another couple, a pair of newlyweds, who are staying in the adjoining room. The discovery of that hole results in everyone being pushed out of their comfort zone, whether that’s interactions they’d rather avoid, realities they’ve avoided confronting or decisions being made that they’ll come to regret.
The campaign was smart to hide all this. Because it wasn’t teased or hinted at in the marketing it all hits in a much more raw and emotional way. We see the characters dissent into self-sabotaging behavior and it’s all new, coming at us slowly over the course of the story.
If there’s one thing the campaign sold accurately and well, it’s the cold, detached tone the movie often takes. Jolie’s directing is solid and assured, but it maintains that cold aesthetic throughout the movie, keeping all the emotions at arm’s length, even at the moments they bubble to the surface. But that works for the subject matter and allows the characters to not give in to big showy moments, which aren’t earned.