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The Life Before Her Eyes
by Laura Kasischke
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)


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(Discounted Paperback (with CD) from Amazon)
. "The Life Before Her Eyes"

Some films require making an effort. The one I had to make for this one is trying to love/like/have sympathy for the actresses who play teenager and adult of the same individual. The culprit who demands the effort on behalf of this conceit, director Vadim Perelman, was working from a screenplay by Emil Stern adapted from a novel by Laura Kasischke. The perspective is 100% female.

It's also the ultimate in confinement: small story in a technique of repetition and slow, agonizing revelation. Seventeen-year old Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) is in her last semester at high school. She's nothing if not full of appetites, and not just for a good meal. As a beautiful young woman with the world ahead of her, she explores her boundaries while breaking a few.

Best pal and everpresent side-kick is Maureen (Eva Amurri, daughter of Susan Sarandon), faithful, needy, the understanding note of moderation. Then, there's the adult Diana, (Uma Thurman), who gets equal time in the story as she obsessively looks back to "those days." Her inability to move on without so much reliving of the past appears to be the result of an intensely traumatic event the likes of which could alter anyone's idea of an ideal future.

The adult Diana is fulfilling her teenage dreams, married to the smart, handsome professor she fell for and went after. She has, after all, the kind of beauty that makes physical and mental seduction effortless. And, the husband-professor (Brett Cullen, "Friday Night Lights" TV) isn't complaining, except, perhaps, about Diana's restlessness, her fixation on her past, the corrosive effect her feelings of guilt are having on their relationship.

It was a Columbine-like attack, with the student killer spraying his high-powered machine gun all around campus until he enters the girl's rest room and finds Diana and Maureen. He taunts them to decide which, between them, would die; which one he'd spare -- a dilemma even Solomon couldn't solve. This we see: Maureen volunteers to be the one. But Diana... well she realizes her will to live is too strong to be generous about it, and she pauses, locked in fear and agony.

Perelman's technique plays an equal role in the drama. When Thurman is on screen, she's revisualizing the past; when Wood is on screen, she's acting out her days as a 17-year old student, inquisitive, wild, at times circumspect and serious. But it's anything but straightforward. The scenes are incomplete. With each new repetition more information comes out. Each new detail gives new meaning and raises different questions. It's a workout.

It also raises suspicions that there's something lurking beneath the surface -- some kind of alternative universe. The revelations build a certain sense of apprehension and foreshadows an imbalance in the arc of realism. You suspect it is an intriguing effort to suggest how a mind might see things in an impossible life-or-death moment. But, it's also disturbingly heavy handed. Perelman's asking you to get involved in his experiment. No, he's insisting on it. As evanescent images come and go in the order of repetitions, we begin to get glimmers of a supernatural warp. But, is that the path he's taking us on? The depictions are both solid in characterization and on increasingly shaky ground. What limbo is this?, we might ask until the final moments.

(If you've seen the movie or don't think you ever will, click the SPOILER button, below).

The editing is a major player in the construction, along with the director's blueprint for shooting it with the flashback/flashforward sequences in mind--a technical accomplishment that's not as easy as it looks. Perelman pulls it off with very close attention to detail, but involvement is less than it might have been as sympathy gets nicked away by the effort to resolve the associations and meanings. Too much looking for the "ah hah!" moment.

On the other hand, this freewheeling play on time and reality is no waste of time. Wood is superb, exhibiting an exquisitely mature level of acting that includes knowing exactly how to use and control the instrument of her appearance and persona for the ultimate realization of the role -- an attribute common to the best actors, especially when physical attribute is germane to the subject matter.

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Thurman's part doesn't call for as much physicality and, while we well remember her use of such power in the "Kill Bill" series, here we see her wrestling with a snake pit of internal demons. Got the impression she was pulling out all the acting stops she possesses to do it, and gets the job done.

The concept is Kasischke's, the original author. See the link to his book, above.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 8

Ditch the spoiler button

                                                           ~~ Richard N. 
[Ed. note: Some people are particularly annoyed by spoilers in a review. A review of this film pretty much has to include an analysis of the unusual concept, which couldn't be discussed without giving away the end twist. Which is why I separated the disclosure with a pop up window and a button. This reader thinks it's not necessary. Do you? Tell me how you feel about it and why and I'll ditch it if there's a consensus that it should go.]

Site rating: 5
This movie made no sense and it was pretty dumb.

                                                           ~~ EHE 
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by and to recommend this reviewer.
Site rating: 10

I'm glad that the spoiler was included. I watched the movie, but was confused on wheather it had ever happend, she changed reality, ect. So this cleared it up and the movie made more sense.

                                                           ~~ Lisa 
Well written
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 10

I read this review after the movie because I needed some insight into the ending. The spoiler really got me thinking and helped me get the aha moment I was looking for. This is not your average black or white - it makes you think. Superb acting and suberb themes. I would recommend it.

                                                           ~~ Farah 
Very well written
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 10

I disagree with the author that "involvement is less than it might have been as sympathy gets nicked away by the effort to resolve the associations and meanings. Too much looking for the "ah hah!" moment." We stayed involved until the very end. What a great movie!

                                                           ~~ Sharon B. 

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