In all my years as a cineaste and as a movie-goer, few films have affected me as profoundly as this film. Some of it is indeed 'disturbing' but only in the same sense that, say, the Gospels are disturbing.. telling us things we'd rather not hear and showing us images we'd rather not see... but things which make us wiser and more human. This film is about faith and love and hope, yes, but it is no feel-good movie of the week slop. It's a challenging film, which means that some may not enjoy it. As film critic Roger Ebert writes: "It has the kind of raw power, the kind of unshielded regard for the force of good and evil in the world, that we want to shy away from. It is easier sometimes to wrap ourselves in sentiment and pious platitudes."
It redefines our definition of sin and redemption and gives a vision of a righteous person that is probably more in line with what Jesus had in mind than any conservative church elders (like the ones in the film) are capable of conceptualizing. Rarely does a film come along that is as both spiritual and as morally complex as this one. It will alienate some viewers with it's frank sexuality, nudity, and it's devastating second act.
It's their loss.. and what a huge loss it is.
And then there's the performance of Emily Watson, which I think is simply one of the greatest single performances in the history of the cinema. And I would defend that with as much passion as I would my most cherished philosophical, religious, or political viewpoints. There are scenes where Watson's character carries on a two-way conversation between herself and G-d, speaking both voices, and we are reminded of what good acting is and what it means. After years and years of seeing mediocre acting, a great actor can devastate you with their realness. This was the case with Emily Watson and myself. The supporting cast also delivers very fine, if not as memorable, performances.
The ending, poetic and unexpected, reminded me of the literary genre of 'magical realism' which Angel Flores described as "an amalgamation of fantasy and realism." The ending is neither cheap nor unnecessary, it is the perfect ending to a perfect film.
It is the ending, too, which gives the story of Bess parallels with the life of Christ. Whereas Jesus understood his fate (atleast according to tradition), Bess cannot comprehend the forces that overwhelm her. Bess, just like another so-called blasphemer and criminal, has her life and sufferings ultimately shown through miracle to be vindicated by God. Christ's resurrection (in the case of Jesus) was a "yes" to Jesus and a "no" to the community that condemned him. Likewise with Bess. The story, at it's core, cannot be seen as anything but a devastating critique of the dogmatic and sectarian aspects of Christian religious practice.
There is simply no excuse for this film to be as overlooked as it is. Hopefully, time will vindicate it and it will eventually be seen as the great classic that it is. If this film is lost to time, it will be a tremendous loss to the artistic medium of film.
I truly love this movie. And when I say "love", it's not hyperbole.
Please see this film.
Not to mention it is cinematically the best film I have ever seen, as Heilman says, it is transcends words and descriptions. Do not let any review scare you away, if you don't like graphic sex turn it off, but this is a film about the love God has for all the how beautiful a pure spirit is.
also, what's up wit da bells? man, I didn't understand dat at all. Read more
Bess, beautifully portrayed by Emily Watson, is a completely naive yet totally sexual human being... Read more