The Secret [Blu-ray]
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On the point of death after a horrendous road accident, a mother transfers her soul into the body of her teenage daughter in order to remain close to her husband. The distraught husband and father must learn to cope with the two women he loves who now inhabit one body.
Benjamin et Hannah forment un couple modèle, uni depuis plusieurs années par un amour solide et profond. Ensemble, ils ont une fille de 16 ans : Samantha.
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The rest of the movie deals with how Ben comes to grips with this bizarre turn of events and how Hannah struggles to cope not only with having lost her material body, but having to try to 'find' her daughter's spirit within Sam's physical self, whislt at the same time traversing the tension-fraught life of a high school teen. Both Ben and "Hannah as Sam" also have trouble dealing with the weirdness of their situation as being deeply in love, they come to certain realisations about the impossible situation they are both in. Ben is torn between wanting to satisfy his and Hannah's emotional and sexual needs whilst not wanting to cross the boundaries presented by his own daughter's material body.
The leads do a credible job of portraying three individuals trapped in an intolerable situation, though it is Duchovny's Ben and Thirlby's Sam that carry the movie for the most part. Olivia Thirlby's performance as Samantha/Hannah is commendable as she portrays both mother and teen credibly. Viewers can really tell when she is playing either mother or daughter. Thirlby is definitely a young actor of promising talent based on this performance.
This is supposedly a remake of a Japanese movie titled Himitsu, and though I haven't watched the original, this movie can stand alone on its own merits. Though it has a supernatural premise, it never really delves too deeply into that aspect for the movie deals more with how individuals cope under strange circumstances. Ben and 'Hannah' do seem to accept the situation way too quickly [which did strike me as very odd], but at 1.5 hrs long, the movie really didn't have the luxury of time to go in depth into the topic of spirit transference/possession.
On the whole, I found "The Secret" to be quite an engrossing drama and well carried by credible acting.
For those viewers who are very much concerned about the taboo aspects of this movie, i.e. a dad having to deal with a daughter who has her mother's spirit residing within her and the physical issues of dealing with that, do not fret. The movie never crosses the line towards actual physical consummation nor any explicit displays of affection between Ben and "Hannah as Sam".
The story is laid out explicitly on the DVD case and in the trailer. Really all that was left to discover was how believable they made it and whether they cross any gross-out lines of keeping it "in the family". The performances were very adequate and make for a sustainable take on the body/spirit switch. The lead up to the event with their lovey-dovey marriage was over the top sap, but still fun. Through the course of the film, the young actress does a great job of fulfilling a split personality type roll, and I look forward to seeing more from her. By the end of the film you forget who is really there and who is not (in her mind).
SPOILER: I will get to the obvious question as numerous people have said they will not rent it if it goes down a certain path of consumation; It does not. But that does not mean you won't feel uncomfortable at times. For what this film is, I gave it a higher rating because of the believability without going X-Files-ish in how/why it happens, plus the acting was solid.
Quality of the DVD was fine, (did not get to the Blu this week) but it still showed a variety of failings with the camera grain; there were several takes of back/forth dialogue scenes that were obviously shot by different cameras where the grain detracted from the scene. The interviews and behind the scenes were nice additions for the release.
The basic story centers on a seventeen year old girl whose body is inhabited by her mother's soul. The two of them were in a terrible accident, and while in the hospital, just as the mother is about to die she reaches over, all ceiling of the Sistine Chapel like, and transfers her soul into the body of her daughter. The daughter keeps her body but becomes her mother in personality and memories. When she goes to school and hangs out with her friends she doesn't really know what's going on, who the people are or what her homework assignments are, because ... well, she's her mother now, for all practical purposes. It takes her a while to come to terms with what's happened and even longer to convince her father/husband.
Now, to cut right to the chase in case you can't see the 400 pound gorilla in the room, once the father is convinced that his wife is living in the body of his daughter and they, well, ya know, they're all in love and stuff ... so what about sex?
Things get a little creepy but I give both films high marks for how delicately the sex question is handled. I'll leave it at that and say it's not the main theme of either film, just one of many issues that come up.
The English version is loud and antagonistic. It's not a horror movie (not sure how it got marketed as such) unless you consider David Duchovny spooning with a seventeen year old girl to be horror. The daughter is in rebellion mode against the mother before the accident and their relationship takes center stage--the mother discovering her daughter's world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll while the daughter comes to recognize the love that her mother has always had for her. The Japanese version is much quieter in comparison. The mother and daughter love each other very much and the antagonism angle focuses on the husband/wife relationship. The husband becomes sad and wimpy, feeling oppressed by having his wife around only as a roadblock to his moving on. The diet of sadness is served in small introspective doses, though, and changes how the film resolves. In the English version the resolution occurs between the mother and daughter. In the Japanese version it is between the husband and wife and involves a big twist that should serve to remind viewers that this has been a fantasy film, after all. As mentioned, I saw the English remake first and it didn't do the twist, and when I watched the original (with the twist) I thought to myself "This is why I like Asian cinema." It is so Japanese. Just when the limits of despair seem to have been reached, another complex layer of sadness is revealed for your weeping pleasure. (I wonder how the book they're both based upon ends.)
I'm not a remake basher but I think if I had seen the Japanese version first I might have railed against the remake for changing focus and tone. Having seen the English version first allowed me to enjoy it for what it was, and it didn't in any way impinge upon my enjoyment of the original. I recommend both films but suggest, oddly, seeing the remake first. Both films explore, and handle, the creepy dilemma of "Would you have sex with your wife if she was living in your daughter's body?" quite well. They're both sweet and touching ... except for some of the touching.
Hannah, the mother, played by Lili Taylor, is a would-be photographer and housewife who gave up her education when she fell in love and bore a daughter, Samantha (Sam) at a very young age. Her relationship with her ophthalmologist husband, Benjamin, played by David Duchovny, is loving and strong but she is having great difficulty in her relationship to daughter Sam, played by Olivia Thirlby, a rebellious teenager who brushes off her mother's protectiveness and despises her lack of ambition. A tragic accident leaves both near death but when Hannah emerges from a coma to find Sam slipping away in the ER, in trying to save her daughter she somehow projects her soul into the girl's body and is trapped there while her body dies. On waking in Sam's body, she's horrified but her condition is dismissed as the result of trauma and psychological strain. Once home with Ben, however, she gradually persuades him to believe her story.
The film is hardly the horror tale a reviewer claimed earlier...And though it's a spoiler...It should be noted it does not cross a certain sexual line in the relationship of father and mother/daughter, though it plays intriguingly on the border. Although once accepting the transfer Hannah at first seeks to rekindle her relationship with her husband, after she and Ben learn that Sam's soul may still be buried within her she is persuaded by Ben that she must resume Sam's life in the hope that their daughter will revive over time. After initial bewilderment at the life of a modern teenager, Hannah begins to immerse herself in Sam's life, learning that her daughter was leading a secret and dangerous life she and her husband knew nothing of. Eventually, her desire to keep her daughter's existence alive combine with a mix of old resentments and raging teen hormones to begin estranging her from Ben who is increasingly fearful of again losing Hannah as well as his daughter. Both parents are tempted by the thought of resuming their life together at Sam's expense while Hannah is further torn between the thought of building the life of her own she gave up when she married young and a refusing to let Ben move on without her. Meanwhile Ben finds himself veering between loving, overprotective father and bitterly jealous husband. Both Duchovny and Thirlby handle the need to shift tone and mood frequently in scenes very well and succeed in making the concept believable. Ms. Thirlby is especially fine in accomplishing the shifts between the Hannah and Sam personalities, she clearly has a great career ahead. Add a very moving ending and it's a wonderful take on the idea, facing good people with impossible choices and a lovely testament to the love of a mother and father for their child. I highly recommend it.