Faith Plays a Part in The Life Before Her Eyes
- 2008 18 Apr
DVD Release Date: August 19, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: April 18, 2008 (limited)
Rating: R (for violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use)
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: Vadim Perelman
Actors: Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri, Gabrielle Brennan, Sherman Alpert, Brett Cullen
Take a look at recent box-office hits, and what do you find? 21, Street Kings, Vantage Point, Never Back Down, 10,000 B.C.—male-dominated films aimed at male audiences. Where are the films with strong female roles?
One of this year’s few female-driven films, The Life Before Her Eyes, is sparked by a strong performance from Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe) and a leading role for Uma Thurman, who portrays the same character 15 years later. Both play Diana, who we meet as a high-school student dreaming of a way out of her small town. She’s friends with Maureen (Eva Amurri), who regularly attends a Pentecostal church. Together they fret about their dating lives and future plans, which are thrown into chaos when fellow student Michael (John Magaro) goes on a rampage at their high school, shooting several students before confronting Diana and Maureen in the girls’ bathroom and presenting them with a choice: One of them must die, and they must choose between themselves who will be the victim.
The incident, which echoes the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings, comes early in the film, which then cuts away from the fatal encounter to show us Diana as a grown woman, now played by Thurman. Married to a professor (Brett Cullen), Diana spends her days in an increasingly fragile state, trying to keep herself strong while dealing with the struggles of her daughter at the same Catholic school Diana once attended. Diana’s increasingly delicate condition is exacerbated by the approaching anniversary of the high-school shooting, which she plans to commemorate in her own way.
These latter-day scenes of Diana’s struggles are interwoven with glimpses of her earlier high-school experiences. Branded a slut as a teen, Diana begins to live down to her image. She takes up with an older boy, gets pregnant, and has an abortion. She reacts harshly when Maureen gently questions her about her actions, although the friends quickly reconcile. Director Vadim Perelman, adapting a novel by Laura Kasischke, sporadically cuts back to that fateful scene in the bathroom years earlier, the resolution of which, we come to realize, holds the key to the film’s meaning.
Or does it? The film shows us the older Diana coping—poorly—with the consequences of her choices made as a teenager. Curious about Maureen’s religiosity but resigned to her status as the town tramp, Diana follows a path toward destruction. Lacking a strong relationship with her mother—and with God—Diana tries to find comfort in sex, but only complicates her future by getting pregnant and terminating the life within her.
Yet even amidst the pain, we see images of hope. Indeed, the word “hope” can be spotted on signs within the film, even during the abortion sequence. Diana’s best friend and closest influence is a Spirit-led Christian, while Diana expresses a longing not to become “one of those hard women who are angry all the time.” The film is also interested in the problem of evil—the topic of an honorary speech Diana’s professor husband is scheduled to deliver—and the definition of the word “conscience,” which, we are told, can be defined as the voice of God within us.
It’s Diana’s friendship with Maureen that anchors the film and gives it a moral complexity that keeps the film from becoming another well-acted but morose drama. Still, the film’s ultimate meaning is frustratingly mysterious, keeping the film at some remove even as it presents themes of hope and redemption that Christian viewers might want to embrace. The conclusion offers a murky resolution to the film’s central question about the outcome of the life-or-death scenario in the school bathroom, but at the same time it undercuts the impact of the issues examined by the film.
“I thought if I lived a certain way … I could make everything alright,” Diana says. But everything is not alright in Diana’s life, and never can be. Though the film tries to wrap up its story, it fails to satisfy. Nevertheless, it does leave viewers with deeper questions, if they care to wrestle with them. Is a life without hope worth living? How long can we ignore God’s influence in our lives and not respond to His leading? The Life Before Her Eyes suggests these potent themes but settles for a surface resolution that feels like a gimmick. In the end, The Life Before Her Eyes is reduced to a third-rate M. Night Shyamalan twist rather than rising to the largely unexplored Bergman-esque spiritual drama at its core.
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- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; profanity.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Several scenes of smoking and references to “getting high”
- Sex/Nudity: A boy is said to have exposed himself; jokes about pelvic region; teens snuggle on a couch, then have sex; woman in a tub is shown naked from the shoulders up.
- Violence: School shooting is heard, with victims seen later; a woman knees a man in the groin; a dead bird is shown covered with ants; blood stains sheets after a woman has an abortion; woman appears to be hit by a car; a woman is shot multiple times.
- Religion: Discussion of conscience as “the voice of God”; a girl says she had a vision of God; reference to a possible past life; nuns cross themselves; crosses are put out in recognition of lives lost to abortion.