the life before her eyes

a film by vadim perelman starring uma thurman, evan rachel wood and eva amurri (daughter of susan sarandon).

as if i needed another reason to not read the san francisco chronicle… we wasted a baby sitter (when i could have waited to see this film on an airplane) based on mick lasalle’s review calling it “something in another league – emotionally sophisticated, humane and worth talking about for hours.” well, perhaps worth blogging about for a few minutes…

wood and thurman play the same role, separated by fifteen years. wood is a slightly more convincing 18-year-old than thurman (gorgeous though she is) is a 33. the character they play, diana, is a spirited teenager and a frightened upper-middle-class wife/mother/community college art history teacher who is coming unglued in spite of a pinch-me-i-must-be-dreaming perfect life. through a series of countless flashbacks you learn that the middle-aged diana’s issues stem from a columbine-style encounter she and her best-friend-forever (amurri) had in the girls’ room with a teenager and his automatic weapon. the girls are told he will kill one of them and given the choice of which it should be. the rest of the flash-forward-and-back, i mean movie, is meant to illuminate the characters of and relationship between the girls-on-the-verge-of-becoming-women.

the camera work in the film is luscious. from the opening shots of out-of-focus, over-saturated, full-blown flora to swarming ants on the plumage of a rotting (though beautiful) bird in the grass, the poetic imagery is constant. there’s a fixation on decay. oh, and the water… languid scenes in a swimming pool, the back-lit spray from sprinklers, rain, bathtubs, more rain, fish tanks, “the human body is 70% water.” etc. the poetry and symbolism is too constant. diana is the stereo-type bad girl, her friend maureen the goody-goody. this is a film about guilt. and the water and blood (and self-sacrifice) required to wash it away.

ok, if you haven’t seen the movie but think you might, you should stop here, because i’m going to ruin it for you…

i can’t think of a film that jerks you around as much as this one does. you neither have to have been intimately connected to a mass murder, nor a parent to make lingering images of bloodied children scattered on the floor throughout a school unbearable. follow that with a child choking in a restaurant where no one knows how to heimlich, a sloppily performed abortion on a teenager, a dazed character walking in slow-motion into speeding traffic and two best friends, longing for their “lives to begin” forced at gunpoint to decide which should die.

of course, it has to be the “bad girl.” she has to be punished for her “sluttiness”/having the bad judgment to have unprotected sex with a tough/not telling anyone that yesterday the shooter had threatened to kill everyone at the school/having an abortion, right? too clean and too preachy. “the life” we’ve seen uma thurman acting out is the life that evan rachel wood imagines hers might have been as it passes “before her eyes” in the last moments of her life. it’s the trick ending that you immediately realize had been hinted at throughout the film.

the problem with the trick is that it’s not a new one. have you read ambrose bierce’s short story — written in 1890 — “an occurrence at owl creek bridge” ( or read nikos kazantzakis “last temptation of christ” or seen scorsese’s film of it? the film also owes a debt (for reasons i won’t disclose) to “the swimming pool” with charlotte rampling. now that is a film worth getting a babysitter for…

in the realm of mainstream hollywood this film is a 7. at the art house, a 5.