28. The Life Before Her Eyes (2007) [Rated R for violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use.]
summary from imdb.com:
A woman’s survivor’s guilt from a Columbine-like event twenty years ago causes her present-day idyllic life to fall apart.
directed by: Vadim Perelman
starring: Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri,
[Oscar Isaac leans against a truck while smoking and looking across the street at the abortion clinic with a lone woman protester sitting in front… holding up a sign that says “STOP KILLING OUR CHILDREN”]
[He spits on the sidewalk and then the scene changes to Evan Rachel Wood inside the clinic]
Clinic Nurse: Let’s go on in, honey. Sit up there.
Evan Rachel Wood: Cool.
[Next comes some technical jargon that i couldn’t quite make out except for the phrases “12 grams”, “O positive”, and “just make sure she gets the […] procedure…” followed by some clinking sounds]
[Scene changes to Evan Rachel Wood in bed in a house with Oscar Isaac on the phone:]
Oscar Isaac: Right, so okay is it… is it normal? uhh… yeah, but I… [slams phone down]
Evan Rachel Wood: What did they say?
Oscar: I don’t understand a f###ing thing.
Evan Rachel Wood: Do you have a… like lemonade or something sweet?
Evan Rachel Wood: If this gets any worse, we’re gonna have to go to the hospital.
Evan Rachel Wood: I’m fine. […]
[Evan Rachel Wood removes sheet from the bed]
Oscar: Blood freaks me out. Sorry. I wish I could do something for you.
Evan Rachel Wood: I want your cat.
Oscar: All right. Okay.
[Evan Rachel Wood is walking down the street with Eva Amurri. They spot Oscar Isaac talking on the phone in his truck.]
Oscar Isaac: Hey.
Evan Rachel Wood: Hey.
Oscar: How’s uhh… How’s Timmy?
Evan Rachel Wood: Good.
Oscar: Cool. Cool. [goes back to talking on the phone] Yo. No, it’s not. Nah, dude. Trust me. Nah, it’s just some slut.
Eva: Don’t think about it.
Evan Rachel Wood: And there was… so much blood. And he was such a…
Eva Amurri: a #####?
Evan Rachel Wood: Yeah. Such a #####. So lame. And the blood was… Can we change this music?
[Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri discover an open grassy area with a whole bunch of white crosses]
Evan Rachel Wood: What the hell is that?
Eva Amurri: I saw them putting them up yesterday. For the unborn. Hey. Diana. C’mon, let’s go to school.
[Evan Rachel Wood goes over to take a closer look]
Eva: Diana, c’mon, let’s go to school.
[Scene changes to Uma Thurman as an older version of Evan Rachel Wood’s character. She’s running through the woods looking for her daughter named “Emma”. Yelling out for Emma. She finds her.]
[scene changes back to Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri at the crosses.]
Evan Rachel Wood: They’re all kids.
[she passes a cross that says “Margaret”. Then “Lowry”. and finally: “Emma”.]
you can see the memorial crosses for the unborn for a couple of moments in this video towards the end.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD:
a majority of critics don’t seem to agree, but: a few angered reviewers have found this movie to be nothing but a preachy anti-abortion “screed” disguised as a school-shooting drama:
for example: Prairie Miller, who gave the movie zero stars:
…So move over, Baby Boomers, to make room for the baby makers. And for those unwilling to toe the maternity line, there’s apparently a new kind of female road movie out there, called the guilt trip. Last year the ambivalent teen protagonists with child of Juno and Lost In Beijing fled abortion clinics like they had wandered by mistake on to the sets of horror movies in progress. But now director Vadim Perelman (House of sand And Fog) has something far more punitive in mind for his abortion bound, party girl high schooler Diana (Evan Rachel Wood), pregnant by an older sexual predator, in The Life Before Her Eyes.
In the film, Diana is fated to become victim of a copycat Columbine massacre at her school. But she’s also made to suffer a bizarre and excruciating kind of collateral damage to her physical wounds, by enduring unrelieved pangs of remorse for her abortion, while writhing in pain. Diana’s ordeal is capped off by visions of disapproving nuns and the not unrelated image of an endless field filled with crosses reported to contain the multiple graves of aborted fetuses.
And ironically, such a warped cautionary tale pops up in a society where the rampant hyper-sexualization of female minors on screen is not only condoned and encouraged, but is big business (most recently The Babysitters and Water Lilies). I guess you could label The Life Before her Eyes a product of the school of moviemaking advocating catching more flies with vinegar than honey. Ouch.
What Uma Thurman is doing as the older Diana in this anti-abortion movement propaganda screed masquerading as a teen angst drama, is anybody’s guess. All that’s missing are the pamphlet tables in the theater lobbies.
not to be outdone is Lou Lumenick at the NY Post:
A fine performance by Evan Rachel Wood is wasted on “The Life Before Her Eyes,” an overwrought and patently offensive anti- abortion drama from the director of the accomplished “House of Sand and Fog.” Director Vadim Perelman doesn’t play fair.
At first, this pretends to be a drama about the aftermath of a Columbine-like high school attack. Wood’s wild-child Diana and her devout pal Maureen (Eva Amurri) are cornered by a teenage gunman in a restroom. He makes them choose which one will die.
Flashbacks before the attack alternate with scenes of Diana, now 16 years older (played by a zombie-like Uma Thurman), who apparently survived – but is wracked by guilt that strains her relationships with her husband and her daughter.
But wait, why does the world look completely unchanged – the same cellphones and computers – in scenes that are set 16 years apart? And why is the Zombies’ “She’s Not There” playing on the soundtrack?
Well, it seems the teenage Diana had an abortion – and the business in the ladies’ room may be a bit of karmic payback. Yikes.
There are many shots of flowers in “The Life Before Her Eyes,” which was called “In Bloom” before it got sent to Hollywood’s equivalent of the witness protection program. But there’s no prettying up the sheer ugliness of the moral equivalence it’s suggesting here.
Then there’s Marcia Garcia at Film Journal International:
The Life Before Her Eyes is about Diana (Uma Thurman), the adult survivor of a school shooting. When the film opens, it is the 15th anniversary of the killing spree, and a memorial is to be held for the survivors. Diana is an art teacher, the wife of a college professor, and the mother of a young, school-age child. Unstable and fearful at the outset, she begins to unravel completely as the day unfolds and her memories transport her back to the weeks leading up to the carnage. Mostly, Diana recalls her friendship with Maureen (Eva Amurri), but also her sexual awakening, her first affair, and her subsequent abortion.
Very much like Vadim Perelman’s first film, House of Sand and Fog, this one is atmospheric, and it has all the earmarks of a thriller. When Diana begins to remember, though, it shifts to flashback, to the girls’ friendship, and becomes a feigned chick flick. At first, the ups and downs of the teenage relationship are a refreshing relief from Diana’s troubled present, but the movie spends too much time there, and the past does not adequately explain Diana’s psychological condition. That’s because Perelman has a hidden agenda, and until it becomes apparent, The Life Before Her Eyes is a pointless witnessing of Diana’s nervous breakdown—and the agenda is impossible to discuss without a spoiler.
From the flashbacks, we learn that the school shooter caught Diana and Maureen—the latter a born-again Christian—alone in the bathroom, and he told the girls one of them would die while the other would be allowed to survive. For three-quarters of the film, we’re led to believe that Diana feels guilty for begging the boy not to kill her. That explanation for Diana’s guilt turns out to be a ruse, which is unforgivable, because it serves to involve the audience in the character so that Perelman can realize his true purpose, which is moralizing. The only conclusion the audience can arrive at to explain Diana’s suffering is long-repressed guilt over her abortion, which Perelman finally gets to when he has her imagine that she is wrapped in a bloodstained sheet. The “life before her eyes,” Diana’s life with her adulterous husband and her daughter cum child-torturer—the brat plays on her fears—is apparently punishment for past sins.
It is unfair to judge the film’s actors because the characters are born of a thesis; they exist solely to express the filmmakers’ evangelical purpose. Only Amurri (The Education of Charlie Banks) is allowed a performance, and that’s because she represents the religious ideas which fuel The Life Before Her Eyes. One only wonders whether distributor Magnolia Pictures and Perelman’s cast and crew grasp the film’s undisguised misogyny.
and finally: the “Parabasis”blog is here to helpfully warn you about something: “What’s so Reprehensible about ‘The Life Before Her Eyes’?”
Okay, I said I wasn’t going to write about it for fear of spoiling the entire movie, but given that I’ve discussed the politics of films at some length here on the site, I think it’s worth doing. To avoid spoiling it, I’ll put it below the fold. just click the button below to expand.
Before we get there, however, let me just say that aesthetically, if you ignore its political subtexts, the film is okay-to-mediocre. It’s beautifully filmed (by Pawel Edelman, cinematographer of The Pianist) but director Vadim Perelman doesn’t really seem to know when to deploy cinematic beauty and when not to. The result is a film that is constantly over aestheticized, where even the act of picking flowers has to begin with lots of lush color-saturated shots of catepillars for no particular reason. It sort goes back to that acting truism– importance is relative. If everything is important, nothing is, and in The Life Before Her Eyes, the relentless aestheticizing of everything has a numbing effect. The sceenplay is also not good, with lots of telegraphic dialogue that expresses things almost certainly unsaid in the novel it is based on.
Anyway, moving on to what the film is saying and why that is so deeply problematic, after the fold.
The Life Before Her Eyes is aboout (on a plot level) the friendship between two teenage girls, Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri), a friendship which is brought to an end when one of them dies in a school shooting. The opening of the movie chronicles when they first meet, and then jumps forward a year to the shooting. Throughout the film, we revisit the shooting, getting more and more of a glimpse of the fatal moment, which revolves around them having to choose which one of them should die.
Interspliced with this are two different plot lines: The story of their friendship and how it develops over that year, and the shooting’s aftermath fifteen years later, as Diana, now all grown up and played by Uma Thurman, tries to get through the fifteenth anniversary of the shooting without suffering a nervous breakdown. Fifteen years later, Diana is now married and has a daughter named Emma (this name is important).
I am going to, for the most part, completely disregard the Uma Thurman fifteen-years-later plotline for reasons that will eventually become clear. But just so you have the necessary information– Diana marries Paul, a college professor whom she started dating one presumes just after the shooting (i.e. while she was still in High School). Over the course of the film (when she has the nervous breakdown she was trying to avoid) she sees Paul with a much younger woman walking down the street together and, at some point, Emma, her quite-rebellious daughter, runs away. Oh, and Diana constantly hallucinates people from the shooting 15 years ago showing up and stuff like that. This all culminates in a nervous breakdown as she runs through the woods searching for Emma. Okay, we’re gonna leave this plot line for awhile.
Back to the girls (and here’s where all the spoilers come in). Diana is a wild child, Maureen is a straight laced ultra-hardcore-christian (what sect is left unknown). Pretty much the entirety of their time on screen is spent exploring the girls’ sexuality, and the film is basically one long panicked fever dream about girls’ naughty parts and how they might or might not use them. This is brought rather hilariously to the forefront when Diana comes out and f###ing calls them “the virgin and the whore”(!). The film has a lot of slow motion footage of Young Diana swimming, or making out just-almost-nude with her scuzzy older boyfriend. It keeps reinforcing the idea that Diana is a whore over and over again (ex dialogue between her and her boyfrend: you know what I like about you? / that i’m 17.).
Diana gets called a slut. A lot. It’s like, the running motif of the movie (that and flowers blooming cough cough). Hell, she even gets called one by Maureen when they have a big ole fight that starts when Maureen suggests that if Diana doesn’tlike being called a slut she should stop acting like one.
This goes on a lot. maureen virginity is reinforced over and over again too. See, she’s gone on one date, once, and is about to go on her second one, and it is unclear whether or not she has even kissed a boy– ooh! how virtuous and virginal! Her religiousity in her vague by fervent christian sect is reinforced a lot too (Diana meets her after church, they talk about reliigon a lot etc.). Anyway, then the girls sit around and discuss what they’d name their children in the future. Diana says she’d name her Emma (remember, the name is important).
Then Diana gets pregnant and has an abortion and breaks up with her scuzzy older boyfriend. The girls don’t really discuss it. Until… well, right when the future-Emma gets lost and Future-Diana has a nervous breakdown, past-Diana and Maureen are walking by Maureen church and there are all these little white crosses out there on the lawn. Maureen says that the church put them out there for the unborn. Diana goes and looks at the white crosses. One of them says (wait for it…) Emma on it. At this point, instead of punching Maureen really hard in the face and never speaking to her again, the camera lingers close on Diana’s face, now filled with some kind of grim understanding.
Cut back to present day Uma Thurman searching for Emma, the search that gets her in the woods.
Cut back to the school shooting’s final presentation. Where we now see the whole scene play out. And guess wht the f### happens? It turns out that future-Diana doesn’t exist. She’s a fantasy that past-Diana has before deciding to martyr herself so that her good Christian friend can live while in voice over Paul reads a lecture about William James’ belief that one’s conscience is an expression of the Christian God!
Just f###ing think about it for a second. The events of the movie are meant (on some level) to explain her decision to die so that Maureen may live. These events center almost exclusively on young Diana’s sexuality (vs. Marueen Christian Virginity) and older Diana’s nervous breakdown (older Diana is completely and totally desexualized… while the camera lingers pruriently on the swimming Evan Rachel Wood, a scene where Uma Thurman takes a bath exists purely for pathos). See, girls? The wages of sin really do lead to death. Abortion really does kill. it makes your life not worth living. So keep your legs crossed until marriage, and maybe you too can survive a school shooting. And if you do break the rules and have sex (and enjoy it!) just remember, you can always redeem yourself through sacrifice!
The Life Before Her Eyes is a reprehensible Chick Tract of a film masquerading as a character study about the difficulties of high school, loss and growing up.
here’s part of a review from Sr. Helena Burns, fsp… who says the following about herself: “I was going to be an ornithologist, but God zapped me and I now belong to the Daughters of St. Paul, an international congregation of religious women dedicated to spreading God’s Word through the media: http://www.pauline.org.”
There is also an abortion in the film. An ugly, messy abortion that only complicates everything. The abortion is presented so matter-of-factly as the taking of a life that movie reviewers in Toronto wrote this film off as an “anti-abortion screed”! “The Life Before Her Eyes” joins a new tradition of “abortion is not the answer” films: “Knocked Up,” “Bella,” “The Waitress,” “Juno,” etc., but is not really about abortion any more than it’s about a school shooting. In less capable hands, this would have been an issue-crammed, multi-themed movie that bit off more than it could chew, but that’s just not the case. It takes some reflection to find the heart of the film (and it may be different for each viewer), but it certainly isn’t any of the “issues”–it’s bigger than all the issues put together, a kind of poking at the mysterious connected root of them all–and smaller than all the issues: you just have to take this film personally.
The audience in my screening theater had very sharp and mixed reactions. The “issues” made people uncomfortable. Some felt manipulated. The “Sixth Sense”-like ending was a conundrum. “Life,” no doubt, will be “controversial.” But for me, the movie transcended judgmentalism to become a universal portrayal of each one’s personal experience of PTSD. Yes, everyone has experienced multiple traumas in life, and we’re all dealing with the fallout to varying degrees. As Flannery O’Connor said: Anyone who has survived childhood has plenty to write about for a lifetime.
The graphicness of the violence and sex is minimal. My one complaint is that, in the life of the adult Diana, the dramatic events are just a little too perfectly timed, one following right after the other. Of course, sometimes life is like that, but still. Some heavy-handed symbolism and dialogue (water, cougars, “conscience”)–but very dismissable in the overall scheme. Oh yes, and the nuns are a bit stern.
There is no formula for warding off sorrow. It will find each and every one of us. But, like Our Lady of Sorrows, by embracing it, we discover the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant, who is also the Resurrection and the Life.