Friday, December 4, 2009

"The Life Before Her Eyes"

“The Life Before Her Eyes” features Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood. The movie was a box office flop that has been criticized for its difficult to follow narrative and confusing ending. I think that maybe we are just too used to being spoon fed stories that do not require much brain intervention.

From Wikipedia:

The Life Before Her Eyes is a 2007 American thriller film directed by Vadim Perelman. The screenplay was adapted by Emil Stern from the Laura Kasischke novel of the same name. The film stars Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood. It was released on April 18, 2008, and revolves around a woman's survivor's guilt from a Columbine-like event that occurred fifteen years previously, which causes her present-day idyllic life to fall apart.

For me, this was an affecting and involving movie about sacrifice, lost potential, and tragedy. Even the Wiki quote provides a simplistic summary that misses the point of the movie. It is not a “thriller” by any means. I hesitate to provide my own summary because I think it worth a movie lovers’ effort to figure it out without me providing a spoiler.

The movie has several strengths. The cinematography is beautiful. It provides rich, glowing, saturated colors that are in stark contrast to the terribly sad circumstance of the movie. Thurman and Wood provide powerful performances. Wood brings to life the adolescent girl whose life has barely begun. Thurman plays a mature woman whose life is haunted by horrific crime and who can’t seem to make meaningful connection with her family. Some have criticized Thurman’s performance as being almost zombie-like. I think she in fact brings a kind of “damaged goods” quality to the character that is absolutely essential for the story. Both women are wonderful to look at and to watch.

The story is told with numerous flashbacks and flash forwards that are confusing and challenging to put together. The director has been criticized by some for making the story too confusing. For me, this technique is necessary to creating the painfully sad ending, without telegraphing that ending half-way through the movie.

There are some superficial similarities of this movie to the Ewan MacGregor-vehicle “Stay”, which seems to have an equally confusing narrative. (By the way, “Stay” also has some beautiful special effects in its final scenes). Again, the perplexing narrative is necessary to reach a climax that cannot be guessed within the first few minutes of the movie. There is truly something to be said for the surprise ending.

There is also a “Sophie’s Choice” point in the movie that seals the fate of the main character.

I like movies that enable me to see events in a new way and to explore the sadness that simply reading of an event in newsprint cannot convey. “The Life in Front of Her Eyes” did this for me.

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