Tongue Tied: ‘The Life Before Her Eyes’


Published: April 17, 2008

It may often seem difficult to watch a movie with no preconception of what to expect. You often ask who’s in it, what it’s about and maybe who directed it. These simple facts can often cause you to enter a theater believing you are going to see a good movie, when really the film is trash. Then again, sometimes you may just be lucky. “The Life Before Her Eyes,” which was directed by Vadim Perelman (“The House of Sand and Fog”) and stars less than average (to put it nicely) actress Uma Thurman, proved to be no different.

Prior to viewing the film, I was told by a fellow enthusiast that he had heard that the movie we were about to see and that it would be wise to lower my expectations before viewing the picture. I normally don’t fluff people off, but in this circumstance, I did. I had come to watch the movie for myself and later voice my own opinion. I didn’t want any outside source persuading me to any preemptive opinions of the film.

As “The Life Before Her Eyes” began, I thought I had made the right choice. The opening credits, which formulate a sort of dreamy garden experience, initiate what would be consistent throughout the entire film—the pure cinematic beauty in which the story was crafted. The beautiful opening transferred over to the next scene, which was not only the most intense scene in the movie, but it would later play out to be the film’s focal point, finale and climax, all in one.

The scene brings the two main characters Diana and Maureen (Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri) into contact with the most horrifying and transformative experience of their live: a school shooting reminiscent of recent tragedies at Virginia Tech and Columbine. Diana is forced to make a decision that not only kills Maureen but also sends her into a lifelong post-traumatic trance.

The film continues 15 years later, and Diana (now played by Thurman) must be reminded every day of the decision that she had made. Her life, which is stereotypically normal with the house, husband and kid, is far from the American dream. The story, which is crafted with an abundance of flashbacks, is told in a stream-of-conscious manner, where the audience is actually able to see what is going on in Diana’s head. One thought in the present triggers a thought of the past.

I thought I was in for a treat. I thought that this might possibly be the movie that would be responsible for breaking the trend of recent Hollywood trash. That was until the characters began to speak. There was a surprising point about 10 minutes into the film that marked my loss of interest. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. Five minutes before, I had been at the edge of my seat, asking for more, and now I was wondering when the film was going to end.

There is a whole lot that could be worked with for this story, but somehow, only the surface is scratched. Much of the dialogue within the script is actually very well written; however, the delivery comes off as being almost artificial. At points it is obvious that the actors are reading from a script, and the lines don’t overlap at all, making them appear as if they are being read to each other. The dialogue causes thought-provoking situations, which should have great depth, to be played out as stereotypical and superficial mush. Reaction to certain events seem almost campy in a way, seeming like they belong in Thurman’s collaborative projects with Quentin Tarantino.

On top of that, it is difficult to find an overarching point to this movie. On the surface, it appears to be just another political statement about school shootings. However, from the beginning of the movie, it is obvious that there is something more to be said. I was constantly asking myself what this story was trying to say. At times it was frustrating, believing that I would sit through this debacle, be force fed a cheesy twist of an ending and leave the theater in remorse of wasted time.

However, to my surprise, the film concluded with a bang. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Perelman pulls something truly beautiful out of his hat. Somehow the ending drew me back into the story. I was truly in awe; a film that seemed to have so many flaws actually had some substance.

In a press release Perelman was quoted as saying, “Sometimes when we talk about violent situations, we talk about heroism but not enough about real humanity, not about the primal qualities we humans possess.” This film is not about a hero. It is about a relationship. By the film’s conclusion, a deeper meaning to the story arises, changing situations which seemed useless and absurd to powerful statements about “love, duty, loyalty and conscience.”