Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Ophrah Winfrey and Danny Glover
Critically acclaimed (but shockingly underutilized) director Jonathan
Demme is once again able to move audiences with a memorable and haunting
story of one person's plight against hatred and injust Demme shows the
moviegoer through the eyes of his hero that what she's going through should
never have happened, but because her heart is bigger than the incredible
weight of sorrow she carries, she will win out in the end. ice.
Eighteen years have passed since Paul (Danny Glover) last set eyes on
Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), but that hasn't stopped him from searching for
her. The film opens as Sethe surprisingly sees this man from her past
walk right up to her front step. She soon invites him in, but for Paul
the 18 years that have passed might have been easier than accepting the
invitation. Although Paul senses death, it is not an evil dwelling as
the reddish images might imply, but a sad one. Sethe's daughter perished
many years prior and she lives with this questioning fear and agony every
day of her life. She stresses that this is a "Sweet House," but her beautiful,
headstrong daughter Denver (Kimberly Elise) strongly believes that there's
a ghost in their house, and she doesn't want to live there anymore. It's
been tough on Sethe raising Denver alone and even though the house may
be haunted by repressed memories, Sethe doesn't want to run away anymore.
Although the passing of time has ripped away portions of her soul and
Sethe still lives with the pain on her face every day, Paul is determined
to fight back her demons. Paul wants a small part of Sethe's heart and
to make a life together with her. He soon makes her realize that she is
not the only one who is a prisoner of the past, but Paul's hopes of a
prosperous family unit soon begin to shatter as they discover the mysterious
Beloved, a young woman who is hopelessly lost in spirit and desperately
needs their help. She needs direction and Denver (who is finally able
to connect with someone) is the solid base she needs to learn from. Beloved,
with her haunting face and mesmerizing eyes is a symbol of connection,
like the house itself. She is able to bring Denver closer to her mother
whom is slowly starting to find a way to deal with her past.
Paul does not trust this young woman and is upset that Sethe is hanging
on to her every word. He is haunted by Beloved who also shuns Denver's
affections in favor of Sethe, whose love is the only one she believes
she needs. She is in fact a demon to him who gets in the way of his plan
to covet Sethe's heart. Beloved is not only able to push Paul out of Sethe's
life, but she is able (through Sethe's flashbacks) to delve deeper into
her existence-a connection that not even her own daughter Denver was able
to capture. Sethe retraces when she was trying to get milk to her newborn.
Demme captures her tough journey and highlights it with her heartbreaking
failure to feed her child. Even more powerful was the moment she prevented
her children from being enslaved. She was willing to do whatever it took
(no matter how gut wrenching it was) to keep her children from living
the lives of slaves in a "White Man's World." Beloved helps Sethe realize
who she took in, which ultimately sends shock waves through her. Even
though the audience realizes what Sethe has realized, Beloved is much
more than meets the eye posing the question, "Will she stay?"
Beloved is many things to many people and by the end of the film, she
touched their lives in more ways then they could have imagined. Paul is
now a stronger man realizing that he loves the woman that he was once
separated from for over 18 years. Impassioned by her grandmother's words,
Denver goes out and braves the cruel world. She is determined to stay
strong in the face of all the hatred that surrounds her. Although Beloved
winds up breaking Sethe's heart once more, her presence makes her realize
that she should stop blaming herself, that what beats inside of her is
a pure breath of fresh air.
An uneasy, and difficult film to watch at times which engages us with
its memorable images of our vicious history coupled with beautiful panoramic
views of Sethe's haunting and symbolic house. Demme uses colors of red
to emphasize the sadness of his main character's past and intensifies
the music whenever the past is brought up. He nicely panned shots to build
up the drama and tension, while always using the right blend of music.
These elements helped the director emphasize a movie of discovery as the
three characters (thanks in large part to Beloved) long to find their
purpose in life.
The performances are first-rate across the board! Danny Glover's moments
with Winfrey are heartfelt and sweet. Thandie Newton (as Beloved) does
a terrific job with a complex role in which her eyes had to do most of
her talking. A fine symbolic display is able to link all three characters
together. "Set It Off" star Kimberly Elise delivers a breakthrough performance
as she embodies a beautiful hidden strength which comes to the surface
when she is determined to do what it takes to take care of her family
despite the odds.
The film, however, belongs to Winfrey as we sense her heavy heart and
applaud her successful journey back home. You really feel for Sethe as
she lives everyday unable to exhale due to the cloud of uncertainty and
her burden of pain. By the end however, she can breathe freely and the
moviegoer can look forward to her prosperous future.