Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Tale of Two Movies

I recently watched two movies in close succession, The Life Before Her Eyes, and Forgiving the Franklins. Both had religious and afterlife overtones, but one was disappointing and the other was not.

The Life Before Her Eyes started out as a great secular drama, and then took a left turn into spookytown. SPOILER ALERT. I can’t talk about this film without ruining the “surprise” ending. Since for me, the “surprise” ending ruined the film, I think this is only fair.

Uma Thurman does a brilliant job playing Diana McFee, a woman who is tormented by a moment in her past. She has survived a Columbine-like school massacre 15 years in the past, but her best friend Maureen did not. As the movie switches us back and forth from present to past, we see the relationship develop between two improbable friends. One is a “good girl”, and the other, Thurman’s younger self, is one of those classic, wild, rule-breaking “troubled” teens. We are also given glimpses, a-la-Catch 22, of a repeating and slowly unfolding fatal moment. The girls happen to be alone in the Woman’s Room when the shooting rampage takes place. The shooter bursts in. The girls predictably ask not to be killed, and the killer presents them with a moral dilemma. He informs them that he will only shoot one of them, but they must decide which one it is to be. The tension mounts as the scene develops. We are given ample opportunity to conjecture on just what went down that this woman blames herself for. We wonder when or if she will come out the other side. I wanted her to find peace, and stop blaming herself for being a kid put in an impossible situation by a maniac, whose fault the outcome truly is. Instead, the author takes us to spookytown. It seems that what we have been watching this whole time is an unsatisfying fantasy of what Thurman’s life would have been had she not decided to take several bullets for her sweet innocent friend.

Suddenly, what we have here is a Redemption Story. Diana, we are told, “deserves” life less than her goody-two-shoes friend, and this is her one chance to do something noble. This is apparent because Diana has had premarital teen sex, a serious no-no in teen flicks, and also an abortion as a result. These themes are introduced late in the film, so we are not supposed to feel sympathetic toward this character. Diana’s daughter is in fact, a name on one of those anti-abortion demonstration crosses on the parochial school lawn. The biggest problem of course, is this act of grand nobility coming out of a school shooting spree. To understand what’s so very wrong with this, read Wonder Bread, a review by Melvin Jules Bukiet of a similarly-themed stories that he labels “Brooklyn Books of Wonder” (BBoWs).

From the end of his essay:

Coddled and cosseted, they’re the first generation of novelists who grew up reading the young-adult pap that they’ve now regurgitated with a deconstructive gloss learned in college. Of course, such aspirations require equivalently high subject matter. Hence the BBoWs’s mock encounter with enormity. Still, they have no teeth. They’re sheep in wolves’ clothing who manage to write about bad things and make you feel good.

So what’s so terribly wrong with all this? BBoWs are benign and smart and claim important antecedents (Krauss’s pantheon, Auster’s nods to Borges and Calvino, Foer’s echoes of Günter Grass before the latter’s recent . . . um . . . awkwardness), and some are stunning prose stylists (Eggers and Chabon and Krauss) who clearly have literary talent to spare. That’s precisely why their books are more insidious than simpler genre novels wherein people manage to triumph over trauma.

In fact, trauma’s never overcome. That’s what defines it. Your father is dead, or your mother, and so are most of the Jews of Europe, and the World Trade Center’s gone, and racism prevails, and sex murders occur. What is, is. The real is the true, and anything that suggests otherwise, no matter how artfully constructed, is a violation of human experience.”

I can’t say it any better, “a violation of human experience.” There is no nobility or redemption to be found in a school shooting. It’s a senseless act of madness. I was so looking forward to a Joseph Heller ending, seeing as how they so boldly lifted one of his literary techniques.

Forgiving the Franklins, on the other hand, starts out in a very religious small town, and almost immediately jumps into spookytown. The Franklins, with the exception of one daughter, are exempted from Original Sin while in a coma. The rest of the action follows, and raises interesting questions about modern Christian beliefs. I will not spoil this movie. Go rent it, or see it if you haven’t. I think you’ll agree that the movie uses symbolism and belief as a vehicle for exploration in a manner that makes it an excellent story and a solid literary effort, even if you don’t agree with the message.

Graphic from


At 3:49 AM, Blogger vjack said...

I just noticed that the URL you have for Atheist Revolution in your sidebar is wrong. The URL should be


At 9:59 AM, Blogger Romeo Morningwood said...

Excellent, intelligent reviewing. Isn't it amazing that they haven't made more Columbinish Teen Movies?'s every Parent's worst nightmare.

Where was it that they were okee-Dokeeing the right for Teachers to pack heat..apparently this is a proactive measure to limit the would be perps from proceeding with their carnage..Hmm.

I like the sound of both of these films and have put them on my list of Flicks to watch when Winter about a week.

At 3:56 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...

vjack: Oh yeah. Sorry about that.

donnold: I think you'll like "the other one". I'm still pissed at that cop-out ending.

At 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the Franklins one. I find the sex scenes rather... odd. Know what I mean?

As for the Thurman one, that's just sick. Seriously. Where does the money come from to make such shit films? (I don't know. I suppose I could ask the same about the Franklins.)

At 4:05 AM, Blogger vjack said...

Similar reaction to The Life Before Her Eyes. Started out pretty good, and the ending basically ruined it. Oh well, I guess I have seen enough of these that I really should expect it now.

At 7:25 AM, Blogger breakerslion said...

kelly: It struck me that this was a play before it was a movie, and the sex scenes probably could have been re-blocked to make them a little more realistic. The movie was symbolic overall, so they made some kind of sense in context. As for the money, you and I are not mainstream America. Lots of people enjoy having their emotions played like a Concertina.

vjack: Yeah, exactly. The Magic Formula of Revisionism. Should have seen it coming when Sly Stallone rescued the Vietnam MIAs. We all feel better now. Fuck reality.

The graphic for this post was not my first choice by the way. I couldn't find a good picture of "Deus ex machina". At first, I was going to caption it, "Glinda says, 'I smell something fishy!'", but I decided to let it stand on its own.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Rev. Barky said...

Did you ever see "Rapture"? I was really enjoying the film and just when it seemed like there was going to be a sensible ending - the crazy Fundi getting put in jail for killing her child - AND THAT DOES HAPPEN OCCASIONALLY - then there's a real rapture. How stupid.

We just saw "Religulous" and I put up my review.


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