Beloved review by The Grim Ringler

I sorta fell in love with author Toni Morrison during a lit class at a community college. We were assigned the novel Song of Solomon and were told that another teacher would be coming in to teach it. I was taken by the book and still have it among the best books I have ever read. What made me love the author was a teacher named Fairy that came in the class to teach the book to us. I had never seen someone get so wrapped up and emotional about a book. Telling us about the book, asking us what we thought about it, engaging us, it was like listening to someone in love talk. As she got going though tears came to her eyes and I was a little freaked out. I had never heard anyone get so emotional over a book, but good god, I never even imagine people really CRIED over a book. Not one that wasn’t a sappy love story. And seeing someone so passionate over a book, and seeing someone so passionate over this book, I fell in love myself. I’ll never be half as good as a writer as Ms. Morrison is, but that book became a doorway into her world and she became one of the many parents of my own writing style. So you can imagine that I was pretty jazzed in the nineties when I learned that Oprah Winfrey was working on getting an adaptation of Morrison’s Beloved to the screen.

Beloved is the story of Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), an ex-slave who has seen everything she has loved taken from her before she was able to escape the cruelty of the world of slavery she had known for most of her life. Now, an adult woman with three children, Sethe is trying to make a life for herself and her family, but the past has a way of never quite leaving. Especially when you hold onto it so tightly. Sethe’s house is haunted. Haunted, she believes, by a daughter that died not long after she had escaped the slave grounds she and so many of her friends had seen as Hell. Her two sons have enough of the violent haunting and run away, leaving only Sethe and her daughter Denver to face the future together. From the past comes another face though, a man that had known Sethe and her missing husband, a man named Paul D who knows the truth about what happened to Sethe’s man and the hell that was their former home, and the hell that lay beyond it. Things in the house change when Sethe and Paul D begin a cautious romance, their love growing from their mutual past, their mutual past, and their need for something good to come from their pasts. Just when things are going their best though the hauntings stop, and the real trouble begins. A mysterious young woman who calls herself Beloved appears at the doorstep of Sethe and she is immediately brought into the family and looked after, her body frail, her voice barely there, her past a fog. Sethe and she latch onto one another and it becomes apparent to Denver and Paul D that there is little room for them any longer. And when Paul D finds out the truth of what happened to Sethe’s daughter and how she died, it’s too much for him and he leaves to find a new place he can call home. Sad but resolute, Sethe lets him go and now it’s just she, Denver, and Beloved, and in time, just she and Beloved. But Beloved is a vessel that cannot be filled, demanding more, and more, and more from Sethe until there is hardly enough left for herself. And still wanting more. And when it becomes known that this is Sethe’s lost, dead daughter, somehow resurrected and here, at the age she would have been had she lived, Sethe finally breaks inside, becoming a slave to every whim and wish of Beloved, trying desperately to wash the blood of her dead daughter from her hands. But the more that Sethe gives, the more Beloved wants, draining Sethe of money, happiness, will, and even her soul, and leaving her a husk. And Denver, afraid for her mother and hateful of this monstrous thing that resides with them, which has taken a false place in the family, must try to find help for her mother to free her of this living ghost…before she’s lost completely.

A beautiful, but flawed film, this is anything but the usual fluff vehicle some celebrities will take on when they love a script or novel. Ms. Winfrey goes all out for this film, and her performance, and it’s she that keeps you riveted. All the performances here are very good though and every actor puts everything they have into their roles. The role of Beloved is heartbreakingly acted, the actress giving her menace and tragedy, so that you hate and pity her at the same time. She is essentially a selfish child who wants so much of her mother’s love that she’s willing to take and take and take until nothing is left. the film is shot beautifully by director Ted Demme, and he captures a dreamlike world just past the days of slavery, when its dark shadow still stretched over the entire nation. The problem here really is that it’s too big of a story, with too many slow moments, and I think it loses the viewer.

It’s such a heartbreaking story, and is so hard to watch the things that Sethe must endure, that it becomes more like a test of endurance than a film about joy and love. There is love here. A lot of it. And there is hope when all is said and done, but both are tainted after Beloved has entered into the world, and it’s hard to lose that taint. It’s hard to to adapt an author like Morrison who plays with reality and twists what our perceptions are. I mean, it’s a ghost story…sort of. It’s a tale of love…sort of. It’s a tragedy…sort of. It’s a dozen things at once, everything layered together and creating something that must be digest long afterward. But there is so much here, so much about pain, and the past, and ghosts of every stripe, that I still love this film deeply, despite its flaws. It does feel like a very long film, and some of it is hard to watch, but it’s a heartbreaking film. And just shy of a great one.

This was obviously a film that all involved felt passionately about. And it creates a depth and beauty in the characters, in the story, in the film itself that not many films can boast. Far from a Saturday afternoon date film, this is a very good movie, and a sad reflection on the world after slavery had been abolished. Because the physical bonds may have been taken, but the emotional ones, the stronger ones, remained for long after. A very good film, that I recommend, but not one that everyone will walk away happily from.


7 out of 10 Jackasses
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